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!

Writing Break

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I graduated!

I now officially have my Paralegal Certificate. In the making since the fall of 2015 (1 1/2 weeks after getting back from my tropical island honeymoon nonetheless). With the classes and what I learned still fresh in my mind, I updated my resume a few weeks ago and I realized how much I actually learned and know – it’s kinda cool!

But this post isn’t about paralegal studies, it’s about how I’ve had so much more time on my hands to write, now that I don’t have homework looming over my head every week and classes to attend on Saturday afternoon and Wednesday night.

I’ve recently been forcing myself to write a little bit at lunchtime every day. I found a smallish notebook that fits perfectly in my bag that I bring to work. I decided to see if I could concentrate on writing a page or two at work during lunchtime. Surprisingly, I got right in the zone despite sitting at my desk with work and deadlines looming just a foot away on my computer.

Side note: since posting last, I did not get a paralegal job, but got a new job at the company I’ve worked at for 6 years. It’s in a compliance related area. I still want to be a paralegal (who writes novels on the side of course!) but for now I’m happy where I’m at – and it’s only been 7 months. The point is, the pace is very different from my old job that I had for 5 ½ years. When the pace picks up it moves extremely fast, leaving almost no time to breathe (good practice for paralegal work though). Whereas at my old job, the pace was fast BUT more constant and not as rushed.

So that being said, I often find myself working through lunch more often than not and it’s difficult to pull away sometimes. I’ll admit, I’ve become more of a perfectionist over the years and find myself wanting to do everything and anything and all of it RIGHT the first time. And if I don’t get it right, I’m unnecessarily hard on myself and it eats away at me. Not the healthiest, I know, but that’s where writing comes in.

These past few weeks I’ve taken more time away from work at lunchtime than not. I turn my seat around to the non-computer portion of my desk, munch on my food and write a few pages in my notebook. I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere with that manuscript I’ve been wanting to write for years. The only way to get it done is make yourself write. I recently read in a writing magazine that you need to make time rather than find time. It’s forcing yourself to do it regardless of life’s circumstances rather than sitting and waiting to see if a good moment comes your way.

Now, if only I could keep up regularly with this writing blog… until next time whenever that may be.

Peace out.

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?