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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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.

For the Sake of Writing

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What do you do when you don’t know what to write? Do you stop or keep going and write whatever comes out? This is what I’m struggling with right at this moment. For the sake of creating a daily writing habit I’m here typing out a blog post on nothing specific, but to just write.

I have a few writing exercise books that I could put to use here, write random fiction or non-fiction just to keep up the habit in the future. I think I’ve only used the books a few times so it’d be nice to put them to use.

But this isn’t a blog for fiction/non-fiction writing excerpts, it’s to get myself out there as a writer and hopefully establish some sort of online presence in the writing world. All the while writing my story. So I’ll try to keep those to a minimum.

I almost didn’t sit down to write this. I thought to myself, I don’t have anything to write about so why write? Then I second guessed myself and said, yes, I need to do it in order to kick the habit of NOT doing it.

So, I think I can say that day 4 of writing daily is complete!

Hand write things more often.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Handwritten.”

I really like writing by hand, so much so that it’s close to love. I believe that writing by hand forces your brain to slow down since you are not getting the ideas out as fast as you would typing. And from this, I believe this opens up the mind to a larger scope of creativity. You’re forced to think about the words on the page a little more carefully, being slightly more intricate with sentence structure and the formation of ideas. It really is the best way to write. We don’t call ourselves “typers”, do we?

The last thing I wrote by hand was a short story I wanted to submit to a small literary magazine a few years ago.

It was the first story I had ever even considered submitting to a literary magazine and was not sure how it was going to end up. I was very doubtful if I should even submit.

So I decided NOT to submit.

I continued thinking about the story though. At work, I wrote down all my ideas on little sticky notes as they popped into my mind and took them home with me at the end of the day.

Being extremely excited about my ideas, when I got home I decided to write some things down and see where it went on paper. I had let my partial story sit for a few days after deciding not to submit, giving it time to breathe and open up. I wrote a page here, a page there, not in any sort of order, just getting my ideas down.

But the more I wrote, the more my excitement grew, and the happier I became with what was forming on the page. Some pages had large portions crossed out entirely, while others had arrows drawing to sidelines with additional sentences. I felt like I was a kid again when I used to hand write ALL my stories, and as a moody teenager when I used to sit up in my room for hours at a time, filling up notebooks. It was pretty awesome to be back there.

The next few days I obsessed over writing because I felt like I was getting somewhere. It was the end of the year, New Year’s Eve was approaching, which was also the deadline for the magazine I’d wanted to submit to.

Needless to say, the next few days at work I did NOT get very much done. Instead, I secretly worked on my story, revising and editing it to perfection, or at least the best revising and editing I could do with less than a week IF I wanted to submit it.

I thought about what it would be like to submit a story, and I figured I would never know what would happen if I didn’t try. I recalled a handful of times in my life where I was doubtful of myself over small, silly reasons, and then thought about the few times I actually took a chance and did something I was uncomfortable doing. I never regretted doing the things I felt uncomfortable doing because it never left me wondering, what if?

So when New Year’s Eve approached, I got my story as ready as it would be and submitted it, re-reading my email to the editor and checking to see if I had all my materials attached about a hundred times before clicking send.

And as I hit the send button, I immediately remembered I didn’t put page numbers on my document.

I crumbled and exclaimed, “NOOOOOOooooooo……”, and shut my laptop. I had myself convinced my story would not be chosen based upon the fact I did not follow guidelines.

I had a great time ringing in 2014 though.

Funny ending to this story however: the editor picked my story for publishing in early January, the next week I got engaged, and the following week my adorable pug came into my life.

I guess those missing page numbers didn’t matter.

Argument: Writer’s Block

My deepest apologies, but writer’s block doesn’t exist, my friends.

I’ve believed this for many years and continue to do so. Think about it: it just DOESN’T make sense that a person can’t mentally and physically write when they were doing so very soon prior. That just does not exist.

Sure, you MAY have run out of ideas, or can’t find the precise words, or can’t get the sentences just right. But who cares? I believe if you just start writing, things will happen eventually. But it simply doesn’t make sense to completely stop writing because of said blockage.

There’s also a difference between choosing not to write for a period of time (aka what I’ve done this last year) opposed to trying to write and coming up dry. The former being you think about and have ideas and mean to write them but just decide to do other things instead. The latter being you mean to write something but nothing comes to mind so you don’t write.

Some people may agree with me, but I think a lot of people probably don’t and continue to believe writer’s block does in fact affect the human brain.

What’s being blocked anyway, and how does it even manifest? Are you writing one minute and then stop dead in a sentence, hopelessly unable to go forward? Does it come on slowly where each sentence in each paragraph becomes less comprehensive to the point of doodling? Is a paragraph finished with confidence and then, oh, look at that, no more? What about consciously thinking, “I’ve got some writer’s block”? Does that single thought invite it in?

None of it makes sense to me! I’m confused! Are words being blocked? Thoughts being blocked? HOW are they being blocked? And who’s blocking them?

I say, just write and keep on writing. It’s kind of like the saying I tell myself when I’m unsure about doing something at work or trying something new: you won’t know until you try.

Because it seems to me writing is all about trying, and failing in various ways, but trying again and NOT giving up.