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.

*****

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

 

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Wordy Wednesday: Heroic Amateur Characters

Hey there! I’m back in Michigan after a whirlwind weekend in southern California, for a family wedding.

My brother and I flew to Los Angeles Thursday night to meet our parents, who had already been there on vacation for a week. We spent Friday touring Hollywood and the surrounding areas and I literally teared up multiple times, because I am SUCH A HUGE FILM GEEK (if my Screen Arts & Cultures minor doesn’t give that away) and I’ve been dreaming about Hollywood for forever.


Friday night, we drove to Downtown Disney (outside Disneyland), where we watched the fireworks, toured the shops, and ate SO MUCH FOOD.

Saturday was the day of the wedding! We spent the morning at a beach in the San Diego area, where El Nino (aka: Really Big Storm of Doom) was rolling in. We watched a surf competition, binged on homemade ice cream, and got thoroughly soaked.

 

This photo is not in greyscale. It literally looked like that.

Then, Saturday afternoon and evening: the wedding! One of my cousins was getting married. Everyone looked gorgeous, the venue was beautiful, and one of the appetizers was mini grilled cheeses dipped in tomato soup. (Basically: best wedding ever.)


Sunday we hung out with relatives, explored the coastline a little more, and continued to eat way too much food.

Then, Monday we flew back to the frigid tundra that is Michigan. (Lol jk it is literally in the fifties today thanx global warming)

Things have been pretty busy since we got back too: Yesterday was Sammy’s ninth birthday! Today I had my senior audit (which means I am now 100% set to graduate)! Tomorrow is Ch1Con Chat and before that WE’RE ANNOUNCING OUR FINAL SPEAKER OF 2016 AHHH!

Aaand yeah. That’s what I’ve been up to. (Sorry this part of the post got so long!)

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

So, I’m currently in three literature classes. (If you’ll recall, I was planning on dropping one–or, you know, two–but that didn’t end up happening because they’re all fantastic.) One of these classes is spy fiction.

So far we’ve been focusing a lot on the early history of the genre (nineteenth and very early twentieth century stuff), but this week we started moving into the more modern spy novel, with The 39 Steps.

I love spy stuff. All of my novels so far have been mysteries/thrillers, and three out of five of them are explicitly spy stories. (The one I’m working on right now isn’t an outright spy novel, but draws heavily from the genre.) So when my instructor started talking today about the heroic amateur trope, I was in Thriller Writer Heaven.

The heroic amateur is essentially a vigilante. The “ordinary” character who sees that something is wrong and decides to take matters into his or her own hands in order to fix it. It’s someone acting without orders, generally breaking the law in “minor” ways in order to fix the larger issue, and going up against both the law and the villain in order to save the day. (Basically: think more Jason Bourne than James Bond.)

These are all pretty obvious characteristics, all of which I’ve used heavily in my own writing when utilizing the heroic amateur trope. However, my prof had a few others he’d picked up on as well. So, without further ado: Characteristics of the Heroic Amateur Trope. 

Well-Connected

Whether this means the character knows people in high places or is filthy rich (or both), the heroic amateur is able to do what s/he does because s/he has more resources than the average person. (Hence the “ordinary”–you know, in quotation marks–above.) Because the heroic amateur isn’t a member of an official spy network, s/he has to rely on his/her own resources in order to get the job done, from weasling information out of powerful allies to being able to pay for all the gadgets and traveling saving the world requires.

Batman is a wonderful example of this one. He’s both mega wealthy and knows all of the most powerful people in Gotham City, which makes it easy for him to piece mysteries together and to get his hands on the gear that allows him to be, well, Batman.

Working with the Law (to an Extent)

The heroic amateur tends to break a lot of laws in getting the job done. This is one of the most attractive traits of this character (the fact the s/he is above the law and thus can do things that those who do have to abide by laws–like the police–can’t do). There’s a lot of freedom and fun involved with this.

However, again: this character’s M.O is LITERALLY DOING ILLEGAL STUFF. No matter how talented a spy/vigilante/whatever the heroic amateur is, s/he still has to face the law at some point. (But obviously this character can’t go to jail because, like, that’s not a satisfying ending, right?) So this character has some sort of connection with the law enforcement. Maybe he befriends someone in the police (like Batman) or is someone in the police (like the Flash) or understands the law well enough to know all the loopholes (like Daredevil). Other good examples of this weird relationship: Taken, National Treasure, Sherlock Holmes.

Still, this relationship will always be full of tension. It’s a constant push and pull of the law enforcement being grateful that the heroic amateur is getting stuff done, but also being upset that the heroic amateur is doing illegal things and feeling obligated to bring him/her in. The law enforcement people are willing to work with the heroic amateur while everything’s going right, but they’ll stop supporting this person the moment things start going wrong.

Set Up as Foil to Villain

This is also such an important one. While protagonists are generally portrayed as foils to antagonists (basically: two sides of the same coin), this is especially brought into focus with the heroic amateur. Because the hero breaks laws (aka: does bad things) him/herself, it’s the author’s job to really showcase how the villain is a worse person in order for the audience to root for the protagonist.

So if the hero kills people (a la Jason Bourne), the villain has to kill more people, more maliciously. If the hero manipulates people (a la Jessica Jones), the villain has to be so, so, so much worse. Everything is set up as a comparison. Everything is set up in shades of grey.

The biggest difference between the hero and villain is their motivation. The driving force behind their actions decides, more than anything else, how the audience feels about them. So if your protag is doing everything for the greater good, in order to protect those s/he loves, the audience is much more likely to be okay with him/her stealing and lying and hurting (whereas, on the other hand, the villain is likely doing everything for the opposite reasons, like for personal gain or out of something petty like jealousy).

Some good examples of this dichotomy are, once again, Taken and National Treasure. The protagonists in both of those scenarios do terrible things, but they do them for what the audience perceives as the right reasons, and that makes all the difference between them and the bad guys.

And there you have it: some of the key traits of the heroic amateur character trope. Are there any others you can think of?

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Reading for Inspiration

So a quick list of things that happened this past week:

  • Saturday, Hannah and I checked out Summer Streets (basically, they shut down seven miles of Park Avenue in the morning for people to explore). We rented bikes and rode them from one end almost all the way to the other, which was simultaneously a beautiful trip and also way too hot to be good for our health. Despite the latter, I still HIGHLY recommend this if you’re ever in New York on a day when they put this on. (The end we didn’t get to also had a zip line and Slide the City and stuff set up. You had better bet I’m coming back someday.)
  • That evening, we also splurged and saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was INCREDIBLE. Oh my gosh. Like I cannot get over how good it was.
  • Sunday we grabbed brunch with another friend on the upper west side, checked out a street fair, then sprawled in Central Park for a couple hours—and sometimes I have to take a step back and remind myself that yes, this is actually my life right now, because little eleven-year-old Julia who dreamed of New York City wouldn’t be able to handle it. (I love Ann Arbor and I’m excited to go back in a couple weeks, but also I’m going to miss this city so much.)
  • Yesterday I finally made it over to Books of Wonder, which completely lives up to the hype. Such a good selection of every type of children’s literature, and so many signed books, and I got to listen to little kids squealing with excitement over in PB while I ogled the YA (which is always a nice thing). I’m trying to limit how many books I purchase right now, since I need to keep my suitcase under fifty pounds (aaand I’m kind of supposed to be reading school books, to get ahead on my work for fall semester)—but I did cave and pick up a signed copy of Damage Done by Amanda Panitch. (Quick story on that: once upon a time I was in the same pitch contest as Amanda—X-mas in July, way back in the yesteryear of 2013—and while my entry was lucky enough to get a few nibbles, hers absolutely STOLE THE SHOW and got SIXTEEN requests and I’ve been obsessively following its publication story ever since.)
  • And, finally, last night Hannah and I met up again to grab dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where we listened to all the amazing performers and stuffed ourselves until our stomachs felt like they were going to explode. (Like, it’s going on eight AM and I’m still a little over-full. What a wonderful and terrible thing.)

Note that so much more happened in the past week than I’ve listed here, but I don’t want to bore you too much with the details of my life. But in essence I’m going to need to sleep for a month when I get back to Michigan. (Only another week and a half left in NYC. They’re going to have to tear me away.)

Onto the reason we’re here today: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

I’ve been reading a lot this summer. A LOT. Between reading manuscripts for work, and trying to get ahead on reading for my literature class this fall, and all the free time I’ve had on the subway, I’ve read eighteen books since arriving in New York a month and a half ago. (And I’m a slow reader. Imagine what I could do if I was a fast one.)

I’ve also finally begun feeling more inspired to write again, and I think this is in no small part due to what I’ve been reading. Which is to say: I’ve been reading a really wide variety of books. Wider than I normally do.

So, here are the types of reading I’ve been doing that have helped inspire me to write and why.

Rereading Your Favorite Books

I’ve read Anna and the French Kiss approximately a billion times. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I absolutely adore that novel and will probably reread it a billion more times in the future.

Rereading it this summer, I really paid attention to what makes me like it so much. Anna’s voice, and the way Stephanie Perkins weaves subplots together, and the descriptions of Paris. This is a great exercise, because it shows you what kinds of things you most connect with in books so that you can better learn from them and work on those sorts of things in your own writing. (Plus, it gives you an excuse to read your favorites again, and who’s going to say no to that?)

Reading New Books in Your Genre

I’ve also been reading a lot of new books in my genre. Now, I write thrillers, which luckily still leaves me with a broad range to read, but also means a lot of thrillers are VASTLY different from mine. This is okay, because what I connect to depends less on setting and the specifics of the plot as much as the overall structure and feel of the story. (Example: An Ember in the Ashes. Totally different from anything I’d ever write, but still a thriller and still BRILLIANT.) What makes me keep turning the pages? Why is this scene exciting? What makes this mystery so unpredictable? 

Although I could think through questions like these with books I’ve read before, I’ve found that it helps to look at some fresh blood too. Keep up with what’s new in your genre and all that.

Also: reading new books is a great way to get inspired. Who knows, maybe discovering a new twist on the whole red herring thing is exactly what you need in order to work out how to handle the red herring in your own novel as well.

Reading New Books Not in Your Genre

I don’t write contemporary/realistic fiction, but I’ve been reading a lot in that genre this summer. And that’s good, because you can learn a ton from books that have next to nothing in common with what you write.

As mentioned, I love the voice in Anna and the French Kiss, so I really paid attention to that while rereading it. However, it’s also important to read new books in genres other than your own. All books have baseline similarities between them, like voice, plot structure, character arcs, etc.–and although these things may all manifest themselves differently depending on genre, you can still find things you like about them in other genres to apply to your own writing. And the really great part about doing this is that you’ll likely find things established authors in your genre aren’t doing as much, so they’ll be even more unique as you figure out your own twists on them.

By reading books in other genres for the first time, you open yourself up more to those sorts of realizations. It can be difficult to pick out things like that in books you’ve read before, because you already have preconceived ideas from previous reads. But with a new book, you’re just a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike.

Rereading Books You Don’t Like

We all have those books we absolutely despise. And I’m not saying, necessarily, to reread those. (Because that constitutes a form of cruel and unusual punishment.) But maybe pick up a couple books you had to slog through for school, or that you found just kind of generally annoying, or whatever it was and give them a second chance.

I’m currently rereading The Great Gatsby, which I know objectively is a, well, great book. But I found it boring and difficult and weird back when I had to read it in sophomore year honors English, so when I found out we’d be studying it in my lit class this fall, I was less than thrilled.

Currently, I’m fifty pages in and loving it.

Sometimes you just weren’t ready for a book the first time you read it. Other times, when you reread, your initial reaction sticks. Either way, rereading a book you don’t like can be a great exercise in opening your mind to old ideas you’d previously rejected, or at the least studying what you don’t like about those books so you can avoid those things in your own.

Reading in General

The most important thing is to read. Open yourself to new reading experiences. Really pay attention while you’re reading (while it should be fun, you should also be learning).

Soon, someone might be reading your own book for inspiration.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

PS. I promise the now very belated Ch1Con recap will go up soon! It’s mostly written. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to finish it in the next few days. Thanks for being patient! ❤

Wordy Wednesday: Put the Ordinary in Extraordinary

Today was my first day at the office! I was only there for a few hours, so it was a pretty chill first day, but it was cool. And now I am exhausted.

And I don’t have much else to say, so let’s dive right into this week’s Wordy Wednesday, shall we?

This week we have a writing process post.

I’ve talked a lot about character development on the blog–primarily because it’s not something at which I’m naturally, well, at all decent. But I’m learning to make my characters more complex and realistic, and in the process I’ve learned a number of ways to go about doing that. Currently the one I’m looking at, in particular, is putting your character in “ordinary” situations.

This can range from thinking about what your character would purchase at the grocery store to what she would do in those last moments awake at night to how he would handle getting a cold. What would she do if she found twenty bucks on the street? What would he order at a fast food restaurant? (Which fast food restaurant would be his favorite? Would he even eat fast food?)

It’s these ordinary, everyday things that make up so many of the little pieces of our personalities. And they’re what make it so that we can relate to one another.

Like, thinking back on my interactions with friends in the past week or so, the main things we have discussed are:

a) Opinions on current events (gay marriage, the confederate flag, etc.)

b) Opinions on pop culture stuff (Jurassic World, Taylor Swift’s open letter to Apple, etc.)

c) Opinions on food (Chipotle, breakfast, etc.)

My friends lead diverse lives. Everyone’s off studying abroad or working somewhere unique or taking classes this summer. We have different backgrounds and live in different places and, ultimately, are insanely different people. But these ordinary things bring us together.

If your character has super powers, that’s awesome. That’s a good jumping off point for getting someone to pick up your book. But the reader can’t relate to that.

On the other hand, if your superhero protagonist has nasty allergies or acts like a five year old every time she sees a cute dog or is addicted to House Hunters? Those common, ordinary characteristics transform your character into someone I’d not only like to let save my city, but with whom I’d like to be friends.

Running with the superhero example, let’s think about superheroes: Superman is a really difficult hero to work with nowadays, because he’s too perfect. He doesn’t have those ordinary quirks and flaws that define humans. People have trouble relating to him, so he’s losing popularity.

Who is popular right now? The Avengers. What makes the Avengers so popular? Not their powers, but their banter and weaknesses and interactions with the every day. (Steve Rogers has trouble understanding twenty-first century technology. I understand that.)

The situations you put your characters through don’t necessarily need to go in your novel. You don’t even necessarily have to write them out. You just need to consider them. Let complexities develop organically. Think about how your extraordinary characters would go about doing the ordinary.

The point is that five thousand, million, billion little things go into making us who we are. Let your characters have those same kinds of complexities.

Maybe next time your hero is saving the world, he should crave shawarma.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: How to Come Up with Ideas

Before anything else: the Chapter One Young Writers Conference announced our 2015 blog tour today! It’s going to be so awesome, with lots of interviews, giveaways, and insider conference information. Check out the schedule on the Ch1Con site here.

Anyway: I’ve been sitting here (“here” being a lounge in my sophomore year dorm) for over an hour now, trying to figure out what to write about this week. (Also avoiding walking home from class, because my right shoe kind of attacked my foot on the way over here, which means I’m now semi-stranded a mile from my apartment.)

This is one of the worst parts of writing, for me. Finding something to say.

It’s stupid, because when I don’t have time to write, or am already writing something, I suddenly have a thousand ideas. But as soon as I need to write? Nada.

I always do end up coming up with something, though. And that’s something to talk about. So, this week’s Wordy Wednesday writing process post is on how to come up with ideas to write about.

Write Down Your Ideas

This should be the most obvious one on the list: When you have ideas, write them down. Save them for when you don’t have ideas. Even if you don’t end up using exactly what you’ve put down, if an old idea can help inspire a new one, you’re gold.

Write Down Fragments

I have random lines and phrases written ALL OVER THE PLACE. Mostly in my planner and on the notepad app on my phone. Whenever I’m struggling to come up with something, I glance through those. I try to build a story around one or combine a couple to create a character of scenario. More than writing down ideas, I write down fragments, and build from these.

Pay Attention

Another great place to go to for story ideas: your classes/work. I take a lot of literature classes, which obviously help with writing, but I’ve actually found it’s my other classes that inspire me the most. Especially my science courses. There are just so many good story ideas lurking in preexisting facts and ideas. (Bonus: I’ve found that thinking of class as research towards writing something later helps me pay attention.)

Live

Easiest way to come up with ideas: live your life. Don’t sit at home all day, staring at a blank Word document, hoping for something to hit you. Go out and do things. Go to the coffee shop. Go on an adventure.

Chances are, an idea will hit you at precisely the moment you stop thinking about needing to come up with an idea.

**********

What are some of your tips for coming up with ideas?

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Change of Plans

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

My plan for last night involved me, my bed, and a good book.

It’s been a long week. We’ve long reached that point in the semester when both midterms and spring break have passed and the only thing worth looking forward to is a summer break that’s still over a month away. So yesterday I was ready for a night off from homework/revising/Ch1Con stuff/internship applications/job applications/blog post writing/etc. I was ready for tea and pajamas and snuggling under a pile of blankets.

Then around three PM my phone started blowing up with text messages.

One of my friends, who’s super into astronomy-related stuff, had found out the Northern Lights were supposed to be visible only a few hours north of us that night, and would I like to come along to see them? No promises how far we’d have to drive or if we’d get back in time to sleep before morning classes or if we’d see the Northern Lights at all. But there was the promise of adventure. And the potential of seeing something incredible.

So at ten PM I ditched the book, threw on my warmest coat and hat, and off a group of us went to traverse the state and chase something we’d only ever seen in photographs.

I didn’t know everyone in the car going into the trip, but we couldn’t get the radio to work so we ended up spending the entire ride north sharing stories about ourselves and our friends. We got lost on back roads and in sleepy silences.

The Northern Lights are easiest to see if you’re in a clear, dark place, so we dodged around lakes, searching for one large and secluded enough to give an unobstructed view of the sky.

Around twelve thirty, we finally found the perfect place: a massive lake in a state park in the middle of nowhere. We pulled down a teeny, tiny road leading to a boat launch on park grounds, ignoring the signs warning us that visitors weren’t allowed in after ten PM, and found ourselves in a parking lot that brushed right up against the lake with only a single orange street light glowing against the sky.

We bundled out of the car and walked as far from the light as we dared. We took in the absolute silence–the kind you only get at night in winter when there’s no wind and you and your friends are the only people for miles. We looked up.

No Northern Lights. But the stars were dazzling.

Hundreds and hundreds of pinpricks of light interrupted the inky blackness. The sky curved away from us, a dome for once not obstructed by buildings. We spun in circles, huddled close, pointed out constellations and planets. We took in our universe. We let ourselves feel small. We remembered we were parts of something so, so huge and amazing.

We went chasing the Northern Lights and instead we found the stars.

I’m telling you this story not because I had a really great adventure last night (even though I did and definitely suggest getting out of civilization to look at the stars once in a while). I’m telling you this because when I woke up yesterday morning, I had no plans whatsoever to go on a road trip in the middle of the night to the middle of nowhere. I wanted to sit home and get caught up on the books I’ve been neglecting. I wanted to go to bed early.

Essentially, the opposite of what happened.

And the fact that last night did happen, and I now have this story to tell you, proves that sometimes the best things not only are those you didn’t plan for, but are things contrary to the plans you did make.

So, how does this pertain to writing?

Don’t be afraid to change directions with a story. Don’t be afraid to make a bad guy good, or completely rewrite your opening on a whim, or start a new project. Don’t be afraid to enter a contest, or try out a new style, or totally destroy your protagonist’s world.

Make plans. Plans are wonderful. But don’t let them restrict you from writing the best story you possibly can.

And don’t be afraid to put aside working on your writing (whether it be actually writing, or just getting caught up on your TBR pile) every once in a while to have an adventure.

Who knows. Maybe you’ll end up with a new story to tell.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Cliche, Cliche

I’m writing/scheduling this post ahead of time, because Wednesday I’ll be in Chicago on a spring break work trip (Ch1Con 2015 flyer campaign and researching for a novel).

So far this week I’ve been buried under preparations for going out to Chicago, plus doctor’s appointments, plus internship applications–so it’s nice to have midterms behind me and this week off from classes, even if I am using it to work. (Although also, let’s be honest, talking to librarians/bookshop owners/teachers about the conference and being a tourist downtown are probably the best job descriptions ever.)

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

The one other thing I’ve been doing a lot of since spring break began is ingesting stories*. I’ve been watching a ton of movies, catching up on TV shows, and, of course, reading.

And, of course, taking in all these stories in such rapid succession means that the similarities they (and a ton of other stories) share are extra obvious.

Welcome to the sweet torture of reading/watching a really good story only for a love triangle/Chosen One/green-eyed romantic interest to pop out. (One of the books I read this weekend actually had all three of those cliches. Amongst others.)

Cliches drive me insane. They’re lazy writing, they make the story boring because they take away from its originality, and they take me out of the story because I’m noticing these things caused by them.

Different cliches annoy me at different levels, though. Like: A love triangle can ruin the book for me. A green-eyed romantic interest, on the other hand? I honestly couldn’t care less, beyond the fact that I do notice it. (2% of the world’s population has green eyes vs. 185% of YA boyfriends.) (But also, green eyes are really freaking awesome for symbolism. And pretty. And there are lots of fun ways of describing them. So I’m good with them.) (Okay, you caught me. I’ve totally done the green-eyed romantic interest thing, too. Shhh.)

Considering the book with all the cliches from this weekend, I realized that the reason some cliches are more annoying than others is because they affect the plot more. There’s a good chance it doesn’t matter in the long run that Mr. McSwoony Pants has green eyes, but love triangles are rarely things that get brushed aside in favor of a larger plot. Instead, they get woven into every fiber of the story, so that you end up with things like Katniss fretting over whether to choose Peeta or Gale in the middle of a FREAKING REVOLUTION. (Or, you know, the entirety of Twilight.)

So here I am. Rattling on about how terrible cliches are. Which, in itself, is kind of cliche at this point.

–But I don’t believe in a black and white nature to cliches.

I think even the worst of the worst cliches can be awesome if done right. I’ve seen so many good boy vs. bad boy or childhood BFF vs. new kid love triangles that it’s really hard for one to seem original now. But I still have hope for wonderful, new, unique love triangles. Because the thing that annoys me about love triangles isn’t love triangles themselves, but the way they’re handled, and this is true for all cliches.

Everything has been done before. EVERYTHING. I can’t tell you how many times a friend or I have wallowed in self-pity over the fact that we just had a shiny new idea, or have been working on a project for several years, only to see something that looks exactly like it come on in a TV spot for a new movie.

Heck, a professor is saying every story ever written can be summarized in one of six plot types. Even Romeo & Juliet wasn’t an original story. (Hello, rip off of Pyramus and Thisbe.)

There’s no such thing as a completely original story.

So it isn’t about what you write, but how you write it.

That book I read this weekend with all the cliches annoyed me (a lot). But there were also a lot of good points to it and I’ll definitely keep reading the series.

So don’t worry about writing cliches. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Write what you want to, do your best at it, and everything else will fall into place.

It’s nearly impossible to write a 100% not-cliche story. Embrace where you do fall into the cliches and make them your own.

You never know. Maybe you’ll be the one to come up with a new twist on the classic love triangle. (#TeamEdward? #TeamJacob? No. #TeamAuthor.)

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

*I apologize for this. I’m starving right now so the only form my brain can function in is food-related verbs.

Wordy Wednesday: Keep Going

First off: links you should check out!

  • Registration to attend the 2015 Chapter One Young Writers Conference has opened! And we’ve announced three of our five speakers, including YA author Kat Zhang (The Hybrid Chronicles, HarperCollins)! Aaand our next live Youtube chat is tomorrow (Thursdsay, February 19) at 8:00 PM if you’d like to join us. Check it all out on the Ch1Con blog: www.chapteroneconference.com
  • People have been responding to my Liebster Award tag nominations! Check out Hannah (of Hannah and Julia’s Vlog)’s post here, Ariel (of Ch1Con and TCWT)’s here, and Kira (also of Ch1Con and TCWT)’s here. (Also: Kira nominated me to complete the tag again, so watch out for that.)
  • Also, Ariel wrote this hilarious post on procrastinating from writing and I highly suggest it for if you are in the midst of procrastinating from writing. Find it here.
  • And finally: my arch nemesis John, aka the head of Teens Can Write, Too!, wrote a post about surviving waiting (in relation to, like, querying) that includes a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head and it is beautiful. Find it here.

And now that we’ve gotten all of those out of the way: I had a super busy but awesome weekend (opened registration for Ch1Con Friday afternoon and hosted a potluck in the apartment Friday night, spent Valentine’s Day in Detroit with one of my lovely roommates and our moms, and Sunday celebrated my dad’s birthday because I wasn’t home for the actual day). And since then I’ve had a billion classes and two writing assignments and a midterm. So yeah. I’m really tired and ready for the week to be over, but also really content with how things are going right now.

It also helps to come home–as in back to U of M–Monday morning after a weekend away to find your roommate’s done this to the bathroom door between your two rooms:

door

Hannah, stop being amazing.

I feel like this sign (and the “Room of Requirement” sign leading into the area that contains our bathroom and bedrooms and the “This Way to the Ministry of Magic” sign over our toilet) is the perfect transition to today’s Wordy Wednesday topic: All those words on our signs are manmade, whether they refer to real places or fantasy worlds or random phrases. They all exist–and matter–because someone had an idea one day and pursued it.

It’s easy to get discouraged. To see someone else’s success and feel inadequate in comparison, or to put in a ton of hard work and realize it still isn’t enough, or to wonder if it’ll ever be your chance to be the one with the celebratory tweets about book deals and starred reviews and awards.

So many people have done so many great things in the world. Joining them starts feeling crowded. Impossible. Like success is an Olympic event for which they’ve already awarded the medals.

I was feeling a teeny, tiny bit bad for myself tonight, I’ll admit. I’ve been doing this Writing Thing for a long time now. I finished my first novel in middle school and have been querying projects almost constantly since sophomore year of high school. And while I’ve been lucky and am so, so grateful to have had a lot of smaller successes along the way, with contest wins and small-time lit mag publications, I don’t have that New York Times bestseller thirteen-year-old me figured I’d have under my belt by now. Heck, I don’t even have an agent.

Then, in the midst of my pity party for one, a friend who’s critiquing one of my novels right now messaged me on Twitter to tell me how much she’s enjoying it. And it’s funny how sometimes someone says exactly what you need to hear without knowing you need to hear it.

And what getting that message reminded me is that it matters. What you’re doing, what we’re all doing: It matters.

Sometimes it gets hard to remember–other people’s success can be blinding–but if we keep working, keep putting ourselves out there, keep dreaming these big, impossible, irresistible dreams, we will make it someday.

We all have the possibility within us to do amazing things. Instead of being frustrated by others’ success, it’s important to remember that those people have felt just like us and been in the same places as us before. We all have our low moments and high points and it’s all worth it, from the best to the worst, in the end. We can do this. We will do this.

The really great thing about the publishing industry is that it isn’t like the Olympics*. There isn’t a medal podium where only the three best writers in a genre get recognized while the rest of us go home disappointed. There’s space for all of us. We can all be successful.

Keep going.

You never know when you’re going to create the next Narnia or Hogwarts. (Or Canada. You could always create the next Canada.)

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

*Not saying that I don’t love the Olympics, because I freaking adore the Olympics. It’s just that it must suck to go all the way to the Olympics and come in fourth, you know?

Wordy Wednesday: Common Wording Mistakes

My family went skiing up north over the weekend, during which we took a walk out on Lake Michigan to check out the frozen waves, and this happened:

Debating between quoting “Surfin’ USA” or “Let It Go.” The struggle is real.

I also climbed through ice caves formed by waves that had been in the middle of crashing as they froze, and tried sliding down a wave (“tried” being the operative word, here–my butt is yet to forgive me), and we went just a little bit crazy running around and geeking out about the sunset.

Now, though, I’m back at school with a freakish blizzard going on outside. (Seriously, Nature, WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.)

In honor of the five thousand papers I need to write now that classes are back in session, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post about common wording mistakes and how to avoid them.

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The Difference Between the Ground and the Floor, Etc.

Did you know the ground and the floor are actually two different things? If you did: Congrats on being above the curve. If not: now you do.

The ground is generally anything outside, while the floor is generally anything inside. The ground is generally something like grass or dirt, or–if you’re wiling away the days ’til spring in the Midwest like me, right now–lots and lots of freaking snow. The floor is generally hardwood or carpet or cement or tile or any other sort of surface that is inside (this includes dirt floors–if you’ve got a roof over your head, you’re inside, and therefore it’s the floor, not the ground).

Calling the floor “the ground” is like calling the ceiling “the sky.” It unfortunately just doesn’t work that way.

And on this topic: “the ceiling” and “the roof” are also two different things. The ceiling is inside the building, while the roof is outside it (kind of like how the inside of that thing that connects your body to your head is your throat, while the outside is your neck).

“Premiere” and “Premier” are Two Different Words

A “premiere” is the opening event of something, like a movie or play. A “premier” is something that is the best at what it is. So Terrible Blockbuster Movie might premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a premier movie.

Dialogue vs. Dialog

If it’s speech, it’s “dialogue.” The only time it’s “dialog” is if you’re referring to something like a “dialog box.”

You Affect the Effective Effect

“Affect” and “effect” aren’t interchangeable, but people often think they are. The difference between them is that “affect” is a verb, while “effect” is a noun. So you can affect the effect. The easy way of telling these two apart is that “affect” begins with an A, like “action.” If you want to say that something works well, use “effective” with an E, because this is an adjective (so it’s similar to a noun).

On the other hand, then there’s affect and effective’s love child, “affective.” Affective refers to how something affects emotion. (Ever heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder? It’s “affective” because the moody weather makes you depressed, thus affecting your emotions.)

Lead in the Present, but Led in the Past

“Lead,” as a verb, refers to guiding in the present tense. Hear that? Present tense. Although you spell it similar to “read,” which is the same in both the present and past tenses, “lead” doesn’t stay the same when it becomes past. Then it becomes “led.”

Know Your Quantities

I’m not entirely certain how to explain this one, so let’s start with an example of a quantity mistake: “They both had an ice cream cone.” This sentence might seem all right on the surface, but look a little closer and you’ll find that it signifies that two people (they both) are sharing one ice cream cone (an ice cream cone). If you mean to say that the pair of them had two ice cream cones, one per person, then you actually mean to say that, “They both had ice cream cones.” (Note, however, that I’m sure you can find better ways of phrasing that sentence than that, too. Because it still sounds kind of awkward, right?)

Good vs. Well

This is probably the most common mistake of all the ones in this post. How often do you hear someone say that she’s “doing good” in your day-to-day life, right? But this isn’t a proper use of “good.” Good is an adjective, while well is an adverb. So only use “good” in conjunction with nouns, and “well” in conjunction with verbs.

For example, if you do a good job (adjective, because it expounds on the noun), you’ve done it well (adverb, because it refers to how you do the verb).

I vs. Me

People generally have this one down when talking about themselves in the singular (so like “I ran to the store” or “he ran to me”). However, put your first person perspective into a list situation, and suddenly it’s next to impossible to get it right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been critiquing a manuscript and come across something like “Bob and me ran to the store” or “he ran to Bella and I.”

Knowing whether to use “I” or “me” in a list is really easy: just take out the other names and see how you’d do it normally, as if you were the only person involved. Then add the other names back in and POOF–you’ve got it.

Need a little more help? Remember to use “I” when you’re the one committing the action and “me” when someone else is doing the action to you. So those two examples from above, done properly, would be, “Bob and I ran to the store” (because you’re the one doing the action) and “he ran to Bella and me” (because he’s doing the action to you).

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 My laptop’s about to die, so I’ll end there for today. What are some of the wording mistakes you find (or make) a lot? (I know I use “good” improperly when talking, like, ALWAYS.)

Want me to share more writing-related tips? Vote for “writing process” in the poll below and let me know what you’d like me to talk about in the comments.

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~Julia

NaNo Day 19: Interview with Rebecca Cao

I’m seriously falling off the NaNo bandwagon right now. A ton of stuff came up yesterday, which led to me not being able to settle down to write until 11:00 PM again, so I only got about 1.3k done.

Upside: Since it’s Tuesday, I don’t have any writing scheduled, and for the first time this semester I have a cancelled class this afternoon. So that gives me a little extra time (although I really ought to be spending that on school-related things). While I’m not likely to get the just-under-3k done today that I’d need to in order to catch up with my goal, maybe I can still pump out a couple thousand?

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In order to give you a broader perspective on NaNoWriMo than you’d get from solely my experience, throughout the month of November I’m sharing interviews with various, totally awesome NaNo writers.

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Today’s interview is with one of my writing friends from the University of Michigan, Rebecca Cao. Rebecca and I sort of stumbled across one another via the blog of a local bookstore last spring, and we’ve been friends ever since. She’s represented by the Irene Goodman Literary Agency and on her way to getting a book deal. All around, she is a very driven, fantastic person who I look up to greatly. Be sure to check out her blog!

Q: Is this your first year doing NaNoWriMo, or are you a veteran? What do you think of the event?

A: I believe 2011 was the first year I tried NaNo. That time, I made it a few days in to my memoir and then I gave up. So if I finish this time, it’d be my first year actually completing NaNo! I think it’s a great event to create camaraderie, but it can be hard for a first-time novelist to finish. This year, I have two novels under my belt and I’m going into NaNo with 50,000 words already written and I’m planning to add another 50,000, so it’s a lot easier than starting with a blank slate.

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

A: When an 18-year-old girl discovers she’s pregnant, she chooses to raise her baby instead of attending college.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: Definitely pantser. I was always that student in English class who absolutely hated doing brainstorms, character sketches, and whatever other cruelty the teacher came up with. I will have a very, very vague idea of where my book is going, but mostly I just sit down and write and better things come out of that than I could have ever planned.

Q: Do you have any particular process for writing? Do you have a certain location you like to write at, or a type of tea you need in order to brainstorm, or anything like that?

A: It’s a lot easier for me to write first thing in the morning, before I’ve talked to anyone and my mind’s been clouded with other things. Obviously, that doesn’t always happen. My first two and half novels were all written while I was a full-time college student, so I wrote a significant portion of them in class. Oops. As for brainstorming, I do it unwittingly in the minutes before I fall asleep.

Q: Any writing advice?

A: There’s tons of amazing advice out there already. While I don’t agree with everything here (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/feb/20/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one), some of it is just gold. Otherwise, you can check out my Creative Process series (http://rebeccacao.com/category/creative-process/) for my take on writing. The one thing I will say is: if you are serious about getting published, you have to treat writing as a job.

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Thank you, Rebecca, for completing this interview, and thanks to you for reading!

day 19

Off to try to get enough school stuff done that I can actually write before my next class.

~Julia