Featured

My Journey: The Beginning

I was always a smart kid. I was talking in full sentences before I turned 2, and I distinctly remember lying on my stomach in the basement office/playroom at my Nana’s house with a pencil, my favorite book about storks, and a lined notebook. With a determined tongue stuck out between my teeth, I would painstakingly copy my favorite stories onto the blank paper. Such began my fascination with stories. I had such a vivid imagination that I absorbed everything around me with an added flourish: the crack in the wall in my closet was a door to a world of angels and magic, the creepy stonewall stairway to the dark and dank basement was filled with gluttonous, talking rats, the dirty and bug-filled crawlspace under the back half of my childhood house was the start a treacherous quest that only the bravest of warriors could face and survive.

I may have been constantly making up stories in my own head space, but I didn’t write anything down on paper until I was ten years old. I had recently moved to a new state (Texas from Massachusetts) which was, to say the least, a traumatizing time in my early life. I had also just really begun homeschooling, which helped to shape me as a writer and is an important part of my past. No “what if” is big enough to encompass what my life could have been like if I had gone to public school, or never left Massachusetts. All I know is that, at age 10, I wrote a short story. It was very short–two full sides of one piece of college-ruled paper–and it was about a sad boy who was stuck in a mirror and the girl who helped him. I’m fairly certain I have the original piece of paper still as a reminder of where it all began.

I have written a lot since I was 10 years old. 15 years of writing concludes in over 100 folders of half-ideas, five “finished” (I use this word lightly) novels, a million words invested in fanfiction, a half a dozen college creative writing courses, and a strong desire to publish. It is an ultimate dream of mine to walk into a book store and see my book on the shelf. When it happens–positive thinking!–I will probably end up breaking down in tears. My life continues to throw me curveballs, and as the time ticks away, I fear my chances of getting published are beginning to slim. It’s times like these that I remember how excited 10 year old me was to write a story, and how everyone’s lives move at different paces.

I am an author.

I will get published.

This is just the beginning.

Advertisements

Series or stand-alones?

Time for a very short blog piece today.

Is writing a series or writing a stand-alone better?

It’s hard to say. Writing series I think is most people’s goal, especially in science fiction and fantasy genres. But I also know that a lot of people prefer to write single books. There are pros and cons to each.

Writing a series means that you can explore a world you create very deeply, mores than any single book could dive. You can have more time pass within the overall story arc as well. However, you risk the chance of becoming redundant and having a stale or uninspired plot during one of the books in the middle of the series. I’ve seen this happen a lot.

Writing a single book means that you can focus entirely on the plot involved between the first and last pages. You know exactly where it is going to end, and filling in the rest is a matter of picking and choosing what details to share and what details will forever just live in your notes on your computer or notebook. These stories are a little less stressful to write at times, as you have a contained plot, rather than having to always think ahead to how a situation in book 2 will impact something larger in book 4 for example. However, it also means that usually (but not always) once you finish the book, that closes the door on that world and those characters. Even if you fall deeply in love with them, you probably won’t be able to write them again; at least not in the same form.

The whole point of this post is to show that there is no answer to this. Series are amazing! Stand-alone books are amazing! Writers and their works, are amazing!

Advice: Naming characters is hard

Your characters are entirely made of your imagination. From their outward appearance, the slang they use, their emotional baggage, and of course, their names. Naming people is hard! Some people name their characters with a lot of thought behind it: the meaning of the name itself in correlation to the character and/or their journey, with specific detail to region/timelines and various other markers. Some people just pick names they like and slap them onto the character.

(I can happily say that I am the latter of the two.)

It doesn’t really matter how you come up with a name. It doesn’t matter if you come up with the name first or the after you’ve written half the book, and have an AH-HA! moment where you realize the perfect name for the character whose holder has been MC1 for your first thirty thousand words. Sometimes, you write a character with a hastily chosen name and decide that, ew it doesn’t fit at all. Either you keep the name and give them a nickname, or change it entirely to something that doesn’t make you wrinkle your nose and ask, “Who came up with this?” (The answer would be you, you came up with this, but hey, no one is perfect.)

I think, however, the hardest thing happens when you write an entire book with the perfect character name the entire way. You’ve marinated this idea and written it all down for months or years, and once you’ve finished, you decide you need to change things. Revisions sneak up on you like that. Perhaps you realize you need more diversity and change the ethnicity of a character to better suit the world they live in or their character arc. You have a name and character you love, but you have to change, say, their last name. That’s really hard. Or if you revise and realize that all of your characters have last names that sound too similar. We all know that naming most of your characters with similar names is a big no-no because it’s too easy for readers to get confused. (Imagine a drama sequence with characters named Sam, Sally, Sara, Sage, Sadi. Confusing right?)

I can also make an assumption (from no personal experience) that perhaps your agent or editor may make a note about a name for one reason or another, as to why you should think about changing it. By now, you have a manuscript as polished as you can manage on your own, and here are people in the industry giving you their knowledge. You want to take it to heart, to make the best book you could possibly make, but changing names is a big deal. There is no right or wrong way to name a character (unless, of course, it is a derogatory name, or if you use stereotypical names with negative connotations) but a name fully envelopes a character quite quickly in a writer’s heart.

I guess my best advice would be this: go with your gut and pick a good name. You could research a bunch of names first, or you could do a random name generator online and mash first and last names together that sound good. Name sure that the name is appropriate for the story you’re telling. It is, after all, your world, your characters, your choice. But also, be aware that sometimes you will have to tweak a name for some reason or another, and that’s okay too. It may be a little weird, and you may slip up while talking about your book to friends or future publishing aficionados by using the first name you gave them, but it happens. As long as you love the name, then that’s all that matters.

My Journey: The first novel

I have an interesting past. My family has often talked about how I should write down everything I’ve been through so I can write a memoir when I’m older, but mostly I just like telling people the random stuff that has happened to me throughout the years.

The least random of things is the fact that I was homeschooled from grades 2 to 12. (For non-Americans, and those unfamiliar with the American school system, that’s ages 8 to 18.) I had a very unique structure to learning, where my mom was my teacher, and I had a certain number of subjects that I needed to fill with courses. When I started showing a true desire to write, more than just random little stories with no substance, my mom decided to embrace that.

At twelve, I started writing my first novel. It was my English Literature class. It was structured as this: week 1, write an outline, week 2, write chapter one, week 3, write chapter two, etc. Each week had a full assignment and at the end of that week my mom would read it and we would go over it together. It worked surprisingly well. (I won’t share my idea because I plan on revisiting and rewriting it soon and trying to publish it.) There were four main characters, so I learned how to write different voices, and I spent a lot of time realizing how much I rely on patterns whilst writing.

Even though I had written the entire outline, I didn’t finish writing the book that school year. I got halfway through, having written about 60,000 words, and then my life went into an upheaval. I don’t think I wrote much of any original work between then and sixteen, but at sixteen (or nearly sixteen) I decided I needed to finish that first novel. It was just standing there, with the end unwritten. So I finished with about 101,000 words. My writing had changed so much that it wasn’t even the same story anymore, but I at least completed the idea. Then I set it aside.

I didn’t touch it for years. I had my grandmother, who has experience copy editing, read it. (Embarrassment ensued.) And then I decided to read it myself. I felt a complex mass of emotions attached to it. Obviously, the story, the characters…they’re my actual children. They’re the first characters I fully developed, the first world I created, they will always be precious to me. But I also realized that yes, while I have definitely gained a very distinct fiction writing voice and style, I lost a lot of my storytelling skills as I moved into my teen and adult years. Reading the first half of this book, it was as if I were writing about friends and people. There were so many tiny details of those first 12 chapters that I cannot seem to ever write into my newer work. Every characters had multiple hobbies, they were constantly involved in action, there was emotional impact and no overdramatic teenage love bogging down the story.

I can’t seem to write that way any more. It makes me really sad, and I have been trying to get myself back into the frame of mind where I could possibly write like that again, but match it with my more refined style. It is a difficult task, and most likely a large component as to why it is so hard for me to finish large, world building projects these days. I keep second guessing my ability to write characters who are people and not just words on a page.

Let’s take a lesson from this: don’t discredit your writing from when you were younger. You can learn a lot from rereading your first stabs at novels or poems or short stories or whatever it is that you write. You can physically see how much you have grown, and you can pinpoint things that you’ve lost along the way. As a writer, this is important, because writing is a consistently changing and evolving process and we are our own best teachers.

What’s the deal with fan fiction?

All right, here’s the deal: fan fiction exists and it is a large part of fan culture. Movies, books, tv shows, comics, video games…there is no shortage of fandoms and fan fiction to go along with these many different media forms. I began writing fan fiction before I even realized what I was doing and having no idea how much of my life I would dedicate to exploring this new creative outlet.

When it comes to books, authors have been very vocal about fan fiction. Some people encourage it, others do not and see it as a personal offense to their writing ability. I can see both sides of the argument (and I won’t be getting into such topics of long fan fictions being turned into full, published series because I’m not here to talk about that or to point fingers and spread blame). For the most part, I feel like fan fiction is great. It helps a lot of people farther relate to some of their favorite characters and worlds, and it helps stir up creativity.

Fan fiction isn’t something new either. It didn’t just pop up in the world when the internet and computers became commonplace. While it has been called imitation and adoration in the past, fan fiction can be seen throughout history. I believe that the Star Trek universe created the first fan space where it was coined “fan fiction” back in the ’60’s with the original television series, but looking back centuries, there are many other things that can be pointed out.

I distinctly remember writing a paper in college where I made an argument that John Milton’s Paradise Lost was a fan fiction of the Bible. I don’t want to step on any religious toes, but let me explain. The Bible creates characters by name, settings and events. Milton took these ideas and created fully formed characters, helped perpetrate the way we picture hell, and embellished the Good Book. The same can be said for Dante’s Inferno, to pluck some commonplace titles that people will recognize.

There are plenty of other works throughout history. The similarities between Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Faerie Queen aren’t as apparent as Dante or Milton’s works, but there is a heavy influence there. You can also argue that many high fantasy novels, after the creation of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, are all echoes of Tolkien. There is a thin line between fan fiction and influence, but that’s what makes this conversation to interesting. You can see it dotted throughout history. I find it fascinating. Humans latch onto things that they love and want to share them with the world, and one of those ways is creating more of something that is completed.

For worlds like Tolkien’s or Harry Potter, I sometimes find myself forgetting what is canon (a term for all the facts and truths written by the original creator) and what is fanon (a term for the made up ideas of fans) because there is just such a huge, uncontrollable force when it comes to the fan fiction writers in these universes. As the psychology minor in me comes to the surface, I find this to be an amazing display of the human’s need to be involved, to fit into a mold or a box, to focus your attention on something creative.

This isn’t an argument for or against fan fiction, but merely an observer and partaker in the fandom world talking about a truly astounding experience in human history.

NaNoWriMo: Fail or Flail?

I did not complete the NaNoWriMo challenge. I would say I was surprised, but I have yet to complete one and I’ve been trying for nine years. It is not an excuse, and I am aware of that, however, it is the truth and I’m going to lay it all out for you guys.

I get easily discouraged, especially living in an new area where I have no friends that I can talk to face to face. It isn’t like I always surrounded myself with fellow writers, but being in college definitely helped my motivation when it came to finishing projects. It was easy for me to miss one day during week two of NaNoWriMo and then decide that since my streak was broken, I may as well not finish.

(I have many self-destructive mental processes. I think we all have them to some degree, mine are just a little harder for me to control than some people.)

Another reason I didn’t finish is that I didn’t prepare properly. I was going in with a half-thought-of plot, thinking it would be easy for me to string together plot lines as I wrote. I was very wrong, and I got stuck about 13,000 words in and didn’t want to continue, knowing I would end up needing to rewrite a good chunk of my novel idea.

So I failed. I stopped writing that idea, but I continued to try to patch up the summary/outline. That didn’t work either, since I have a very bad habit of having one idea of how a story should be and not ever being able to change it. This is why revising is so difficult to me. People talk about completely rewriting manuscripts and having only about 15% of their original draft in the final thing and I just cannot fathom ever doing that. I have a bit of a perfection complex. This is not to say that I think my writing is perfect and flawless–it’s the opposite actually, since I often believe my original fiction writing to be dull and simplistic–it is just that I have a hard time changing my original ideas. I am very stubborn when it comes to that.

All of these writers’ block thoughts made me flail around NaNoWriMo and once again made me pull into myself and to stop being able to fully encompass the writer in me. I fell back into old habits of fan fiction or just not writing at all (see the very long time span between my last post and this one). All of these actions are something I need to work on. I know this, and I strive to continue moving forward.

After the fail comes the flail and during that flail, I have decided to try to write a blog post every day. It may be short, but it will be here, my words on the internet, talking about my experiences, my passions, my discourse about the world around us. I’ll try not to get too political because we can all find enough of that on Twitter if we want to get involved in that. For now, this is going to be a personal journey of my own making. There will be more failures in the future, but I can only hope to push forward and learn from them as I continue and hopefully others will have gone through, or are currently going through, these same things and they can gain some insight and companionship through my blog posts.

Until next time.

NaNoWriMo

We all know what NaNoWriMo is. If you don’t, it stands for “National Novel Writing Month”. I believe, years ago, it stood for “National November Writing Month”, but that could be misinformation. NaNo, for short, is an event hosted on a website where it challenges you to write 50,000 words a day for the month of November. (There are multiple smaller events through the year, but we’re focusing on November right now.) It’s a really great exercise, especially if you do well with a deadline and visual stimulation. The website is set up in such a way where you can view your statistics in a bar-graph. This means, instead of just numbers going up in your word document, you can see bars stagger upwards toward your goal!

I do very well with visual stimulation and a visual representation of my progress is a great way to keep me motivated. I wish there was NaNo every month for this very reason! I have yet to find a good simulator I can use on the months when NaNo isn’t actively occurring. That is, however, beside the point in this blog.

A lot of people don’t finish NaNo; I have a track record of never actually completing a NaNo month in the five or so years that I’ve participated. Most of this is attributed to the fact that it takes place in November, a time when I had midterms and finals going on at a massive scale. After I graduated two years ago, I went through a rough patch where I didn’t write for six months. My writing has been super spotty ever since then. Which is why I’m so keen on doing NaNo this year! I need to write another novel. It’s been too long since I wrote my last WIP (over two years), and I am having a hard time motivating myself farther into my writing career because of it.

No one writes a perfect novel in 50,000 words on a first draft. Hell, no one writes a perfect novel in 100,000 words on a first draft. That’s not really the point of NaNo: the point is to challenge yourself to reach a goal and to have support from friends and fellow writers to reach a goal. Many people far surpass the 50,000 word mark. Some barely get there. But the fact of the matter is that on December 1st, you will have written more words in November than you had on October 31st. It doesn’t matter if they are perfect, it just matters that you’re writing, that you’re creating and that you’re enjoying yourself.

If you would like to follow my progress on NaNo, my pen name is Negasonics. I encourage everyone to join NaNo, even if you don’t think you’ll make it to 50,000 words. It is called a challenge for a reason, and there is nothing wrong with a little challenge, a little support, and even a little stress to get yourself going.

So please, become my buddy on NaNoWriMo! Follow my twitter for updates and support! Grab some of your favorite cozy drink and foods, think of an idea that you’ve wanted to write for ages, or maybe think of something new and fresh, and just GO FOR IT! There is no right or wrong way to do NaNo, as long as you try.