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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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.

Did the Story Come Before the Character?

Alright, I realize I haven’t been present since the beginning of the year, but for good reason: I’ve been writing!

Well, more like a jumble of writerly things along with school work and normal day to day things, and there’s been busy times where I’ve worked at home more often than I have in the past. But the important thing that’s been happening is that I’ve been writing and developing my character.

I haven’t been working on the same story since January, I started one, then flipped to another idea, but when that one didn’t hold my interest I decided to go back to the first one and that’s where I’m at. I’ve been developing the main character more than writing the story, which is something I’ve struggled with what to do first:

Did the character come before the story? Or the story come before the character?

One can’t exist without the other, but it’s essential to have a story in order for the character to survive and thrive in, but it’s also essential to have a character somewhat developed in order for a story to be present.

I’ve always struggled with what to do first, should I thoroughly develop my character before even starting the story at all, despite the fact I have an idea, or should I just dive into my idea for a story and let the character develop out of that?

I started to just develop the character, which got me nowhere – hence the non-writing for so long – and so I decided to start writing. But then I realized shortly after even starting to write, I couldn’t go too far in because I didn’t know my character well enough. So I went back to character development.

Side note: this story I’m working on, I’ve had this idea in my head for over 2 years, so it’s come a long way and I need to get it out!

So right now I think I’m doing a bit of character development along with writing the story itself instead of doing one before the other. I know some writers do one before the other, and that may work for them, but I’m finding out it might not work for me.

Up next time: a look at my progress?

I Edit My Texts Because I Love Words

When the topic of Scrabble comes up, everyone says to me I should be good at it because I was an English major in college.

Wrong.

I’m actually not privy to Scrabble all that much.

What I AM privy to is making sentences and paragraphs out of words in my brain, and then rearranging them to make them fit nicely on the page. This is ENTIRELY different from CREATING words out of letters printed on wooden squares.

Picking out words to use in a particular sentence is awesome. I love it, especially when I get going. I can’t pinpoint WHY I love it so much, it’s just a feeling. It makes me think and my brain gets head over heels.

I wonder sometimes how other writers feel about words. Comments?