Essential Writing Tools

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I have an aunt* who was an author (doesn’t publish books now, but did for many years past). She provided me with some basic writing advice early on, knowing that writing was something I was interested in. The first piece of advice she ever gave me was this:

Always keep a notebook and pen with you at all times.

Excited, I listened to this advice and started keeping a notebook with me. At a mere fifteen years old however, I didn’t fully understand the weight of this advice until I was older.

Other advice I remember from that age: keep up to date in the industry, support other writers, and don’t judge a book by its cover.

This was good and practical advice. Easy to remember and carry with you going forward. Yet at the time it was given to me, I did not fully understand the significance.

At fifteen, I thought that something extraordinary had to happen to merit writing it in my notebook. So, because life was oh-so boring as a teenager, note taking was sparse.

At fifteen, the writing industry was uninteresting to me, so I did not grasp the reason why I should keep up with it. Reading through Writers Digest at that age baffled me and I don’t know if the blogging universe was up to par in 2004 as it is now.

At fifteen, I didn’t have extra money to support buying books from new authors. And when a few extra bucks made it into my pocket, I generally continued buying books I wanted to read (Harry Potter comes to mind) and eventually needed to save that extra money as I got older.

This wasn’t all at the age of fifteen, mind you. Spanning a few years into college, I distinctly remember as time went on, the significance behind this advice shined through, grasping me completely in my early 20’s.

These days, I carry a small notebook with me and write down any interesting sentence, thought, last name, first name, description of an object, etc., that I may overhear. Sometimes I simply jot down thoughts I don’t want to forget.

These days, I read writing blogs and magazines, and follow authors and publishers on social media to develop a deeper understanding of the industry. Because I don’t work in this industry, it’s up to me to keep up with it on my own. I save magazine articles I think could be relevant to me later, whether it’s about writing or advice on book publishing.

These days, I buy books faster than I can read them. I’ve made it a habit to occasionally buy a debut novel from a new author because I know that it’s important to support authors and more significantly, I would want other writers/aspiring writers to do this as well when it’s my book’s turn to be on the shelf.

As far as judging a book by its cover: I’ve never done so. Always give a book a chance!

It’s amazing how thought processes can change in 10+ years. Sometimes I feel like I’m still 18 though, doing nonsensical activities with friends and not worrying too far ahead into the future. And then there are days I feel as far away from 18 as ever.

I think a deeper understanding of the world around you comes as life experiences pile up. They’re branches of a tree stretching majestic and tall into the sky, bending with the wind, accepting the rain, giving leaves away for the preparation of snow, shining in the sun. They stretch out, making way for new branches but not forgetting the old, the memories stretched down to the earthy roots back when it was first introduced to the world.

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*for privacy reasons, I respectfully ask you to not ask me her name. Thank you.

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Book Reflections

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There have been countless times I’ve forgone any human interaction and important daily functions to finish reading a good book. One of the most relaxing and fulfilling things I can do is take a weekend day, sit down with some tea (or wine) and read a novel.

This is not something new. I distinctly remember doing this as a teenager almost every time the newest Harry Potter book came out (sans wine). I would stay up late into the night, lying on my stomach in my day bed filled with pillows, and read until I passed out from exhaustion or I finished the book. It wasn’t only Harry Potter books I did this with. I often did this when I was reading a really good book and could not find the strength to put it down.

Unfortunately, this faded away as I went into college and the constant reading of classic literature piled on (give or take a grueling math and science class). In four years I learned that Middlemarch by George Eliot was the death of me, there was an epic poem by the name of the Faerie Queene that was quite fascinating, and captivity is virtually everywhere.*

Those four years in college did not hinder my obsession over book collecting however. I continued to find books I wanted to read and therefore the pile of Books to Read grew and grew and grew.

It didn’t help that a year ago I found an awesome book club called Book of the Month. Every month I get to pick out of a selection of books which one I want delivered to me at a discounted price. Books keep getting shipped to me but I’m behind on reading them.

And I just ordered a book today on Amazon – yay! A used book that sounds like it has a similar setting like the story I’m working on, so it’s technically research…

It’s easy to tell I love books.

On a side note unrelated, I found a writing group close to where I live and I’m heading to the meet up tomorrow evening after work at a public library. It sounds like a good group: there’s a writing exercise every meet up and we critique two pieces of writing from two volunteers of the group. I’m beyond excited! Come back next week to hear how it went!

On that note, cheers to writing and hail books!

*My last English class in college was about captivity in American literature. To this day, I can’t say or read the word “captivity” without thinking about this class.

Footnote: although I have a degree in English, most Shakespeare still baffles me.

Wednesday Deadlines

In the spirit of finding ways to balance writing, blogging, and reading, I’ve done some thinking these past few days and think it might be a good idea to keep up with 1 weekly blog post. I’ve been inconsistent and I’m striving to be consistent with a writing routine so I’m hoping this might help.

Over the past few years I’ve read so many different articles and blogs on what to blog about, how to blog, what to do, what not to do, how to be a certain way, etc. etc. It overwhelmed me a lot. Like, REALLY a lot. To the point I didn’t feel like I should even have a writing blog because there is so much information out there, sometimes it seems like what’s the point? My brain felt fried every time I read up on “how to’s”, so I lost interest. Hence the long gaps in between writing.

I’ve picked up recently, trying to get 2 posts a week. But even that felt like too much. In the back of my head I keep thinking, I should be working on my story, not worrying about how much I’m blogging!

So I’ve decided to take a different approach and commit to 1 post per week. That gives me a deadline to work with, I get to use the other days to only concentrate on writing my story, and I get to build my blog at the same time.

Wednesdays will be posting day. It’s the middle of the week and gives me 5 or 6 other days to focus on my other writing. I’m a little ashamed to say that I spent a lot more time worrying about what to write and how often than actually doing it. And worrying delayed my story writing, which is a sad thing. So let’s see how this works.

Next week: probably posting about books!

The Structure of Writing

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Writers are unique thinkers. If you’re a writer and reading this, then you probably have an idea about what I mean. We (generally speaking) tend to keep to ourselves, might be a little quiet, definitely a little weird, have a way with stringing words into awesome sentences, have an exceptionally strange fascination with puns, and genuinely have a different way of looking at the world.

Some of this uniqueness may be because we’re constantly thinking about stories and writing, or observing our surroundings and the human condition, or simply just caught up in reading so much that our brains start to think in stories rather than real time.

So how does that uniqueness transfer to actual writing?

The act of writing, or how we write, is unique to each writer. I’d consider it to be in the vein of the writing process. There’s tons of writing on this particular topic, yet something I’ve consistently struggled with. I know WHAT I want to write, but HOW to write it is another story altogether (no pun intended?).

Some writers sit down the same time every day and write where they left off. Some write scenes out of order and then string them together later. Some create their character sketches before writing the story at all. Some outline and then write by following that outline.

I’ve generally been unsuccessful with all of these approaches. Right now, I’m currently trying to write from beginning to end, but I’m really struggling with HOW to do this. It’s such a simple concept, yet when I sit down to do it, it’s actually kind of hard. Is it possible my mind doesn’t think this way when it comes to writing?

The one thing I DO have is a general idea of how the story ends. I haven’t written it yet (maybe I should??) but a few weeks ago I started to think differently about how to write. Well, at least how to write this particular story I’m working on.

If, say for example, there are 5 major points in my story, the 5th being how it ends, how does my main character get to point 5? Answer: they get there from point 4. And how does my character get to point 4? Answer: from point 3. And so on and so forth. Essentially, it’s writing backwards.

But I’m not writing backwards like you might imagine, I’m a little all over the place at this point. I didn’t start with the end, but I took a point that I know my character gets to (near the beginning) and started to write the scenes about how she gets there. Then I’ll take some other points and figure out how my character got to those points. I’m hoping eventually they will all make sense once put together. It’s a new approach I’m taking to writing that’s help curbed the overwhelming-ness of the story in my head.

It’s possible that the underlying reason why writers think so uniquely is because we need to in order to move forward with our stories, and translating this to the real world outside of imaginary places seems like a pretty good skill to own.

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As a writer, I’ve often wondered if other writers constantly think about their characters, story line, and ways to write sentences.

I want to say I’m constantly thinking about writing my story (or stories) in particular, but in reality I’m only doing this part of the time. I have to diligently use my other time completing daily functions like working, sleeping, and playing with my pug (or rather, keeping him out of trouble).

When I’m not carrying out my required daily functions (god I sound like a robot), I’m either driving, eating, listening to music, failing at sleeping, cleaning… the list goes on. And during this time, I’m thinking about what my character would do in certain situations, how the story might unfold, what scene I want to write, what scene I’ve already written. Sometimes my story doesn’t even cross my mind, but rather about how to phrase a sentence or how a certain smell would be described.

Just today I thought how to word a sentence about what fresh copier paper feels and smells like. I pick up fresh paper from a giant office printer every day. What made me think of this today I have no idea. It’s possible I was thinking about writing and in that moment as I walked to the printer, waiting for my paper to emerge, I thought about how to write it.

I mean, c’mon. EVERYONE thinks like that, right?

When my husband and I travel in the car together and the trip is more than a few minutes, I’m sitting in silence more often than not. And during this silence I watch the world pass. Even if I’ve been down the road 100 times, I still find my mind wandering into random thoughts of how to describe a car ride, or how to describe a winter day, or setting a scene at a hot dog stand I’ve been past 1000 times.

No kid: I drove past a hot dog stand, a taco stand, and a BBQ stand for 5 years on my way to and from work every day. All on the same road. The BBQ smelled especially delicious and the taco stand had giant chili mascot. The hot dogs were only breakfast hot dogs; not open in the afternoon (I suspect this place generally catered to nighttime truck drivers).

My point being, I think about writing a lot and have done so for a long time.  I’d be curious to hear what other writers think about, and if I’m the only weirdo out there thinking about how copier paper smells.

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Note: the picture of copier paper at the top is NOT mine. I only say this because when I use a photo, I use only my photos. I just really wanted a boring looking picture of copier paper, because I don’t go around at work taking pictures of paper. That would be creepy.