Great Readers Make Great Writers

I’m sure you’ve heard people say “oh well I think the best way to become a great writer, is to read books!” and I am wholeheartedly someone who believes this. I’ve seen agents on Twitter in query hashtags talking about their thoughts for queries, and often you read “Person who obviously has never read X-Genre is pitching a X-Genre book, PASS!” so I think it’s evident that this is good general advice.

Take this from me, as someone who was smacked in the face with the reality of the fact that it is really hard to write a genre or age that you’ve never read a book in. How are you supposed to know the formatting? The tropes? The maturity levels? I made the fun mistake of writing a book in the summer of 2015. While I was outlining and writing it, I didn’t know if it would be YA or Adult. I just…wrote it. By the time I finished, I realized it was too mature for a YA book (half of the protagonists are in their 40’s + some other stuff!) so that meant it was an Adult book. As a YA junkie I had read maybe like 4 or 5 Adult fantasy or sci-fi books in my lifetime. Upon realization of this, and rereading my manuscript, I realized how much it SHOWED. While characters may have been age appropriately characterized, the writing style and plots used were very YA inspired, so it really didn’t work together.

I don’t plan on giving up on this book, but I definitely need to read like 100 more Adult fantasy and sci-fi books before I’d feel comfortable tackling that again and creating a book that will actually work for the target audience.

Aside from the age of the audience reading, I feel like as a writer, reading any type of book is great. Read across genres as much as you can–even if you don’t like a genre, pick up a book in one that sounds intriguing and give it a try!–and just absorb everything! What did you like about it, what did you dislike? Read books you know you’ll love! Read books you think you’ll hate but end up loving! Read books you pluck off the shelf on a whim and end up disliking it! Because you know what? When you step back and look at the things that made you like or dislike a book, you’ll start to get a good picture of the ways you can write well and the things you want to avoid as a writer. It’s the kind of research and information that you can’t get from reading a blog essay. No one can do this for you, it’s all up to you and your beautiful writing brain and the books you read.

I feel as if writing goes hand in hand with reading. I’m typically not inspired to read unless I’m also actively writing, and vise versa. And I feel like every time I pick up a new book, I’m going to learn something new about what I want to incorporate into my personal writing. It’s invaluable experience and information that only you can figure out for yourself.

So, go forth my fellow writers, and read all that you can get your hands on! Libraries are great for doing this experiment, since you can grab books of ages and genres you’ve never read or think you’ll dislike, take them home and return them if they’re too bad for your tastes or keep them for a while and it’s all free! (Yes, I’m boosting libraries in my blog, sue me, but they’re amazing places and you don’t have to own a bazillion books to be a reader or a writer!)

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For the love of Pinterest!

This is sort of a subpost to the social media post I put up last month. I stated there that I don’t consider Pinterest social media. They’re not forums or comment boxes that are easily and readily accessible. I like the solidarity of it, and it cuts out any and all negativity from the site for me (unless you include the many times the site malfunctions!).

During the two years I wasn’t on Tumblr, I used Pinterest as my visual stimulation. I started making boards for characters I love on TV. Then ships. Then my own books. I’m sure, as I’ve seen all around twitter, authors utilize Pinterest quite a lot. It’s a perfect place to create a visual representation of your book or short story or anything really. It’s great to create full worlds, and specific character boards or ships! It really helps as someone who is such a visual person, to really create and expand and get a grasp on your characters. Before Pinterest, all I’d use for my characters would be an actor or model who looked close to how the character was pictured in my head. But now, I can supplement visual looks with interests, personality traits, sexuality, and many other things to get a deeper feeling of the character or relationship.

It’s a huge help! It’s fun, there’s no pressure about it, and I love to do it. Sometimes I’ll spend an hour or two every few weeks adding new photos to old boards, or seeing what I can come up with for something new by what shows up on my feed.

There’s no negativity, there’s nothing but pretty pictures.

The Ills of Writing Advice

I have seen a little bit, here and there, around the Twittersphere about writing advice and how it’s not always the best thing. I have to agree. There is a big difference between learning and researching writing (as in college, or courses, or personal research for a particular project) and gaining writing advice. The biggest hurdle I think there is to get over is the fact that everyone writes differently. The phrase you hear so often, is actually true. Even if you’re a writer with writer friends, you all will write differently, you’ll all have different ways of writing, because everyone’s mind works differently.

As someone who finds it more disheartening to hear other writers talk about their process than it is helpful, I feel as if this is a good topic for me to talk a little bit about the minor stresses and negative thoughts that go through my brain whenever I think about writing in relation to other people writing. (A lot of this is because Twitter is a useful place to talk about writing; your process, your progress, all the missteps and epiphanies; I follow authors I adore on the site, but even hearing about their writing journeys sometimes has a negative effect on me.) This is separate from the idea that you’ll never be good enough, your ideas are never going to be chosen from a pitch, or that other writers are better off or worse off than you. This is about personal, internalized shit.

I write. I’ve done it ever since I could hold a pencil and form letters. (I was three-going-on-four.) I always had stories in my head, for as long as I can remember and even before then (my family was kind enough to remind me). And, like every writer, I have my own process. A process that, I’ve learned in the past two years, is very different from the “norm” of what I was seeing a majority of authors write about on Twitter and in their blogs. As these writers talked about first drafts where only 1% of lines would make it the next, about being in drafts six and seven, even into double digits, I got really stressed out.

Because I don’t write that many drafts.

I write one draft, and then a second. After that, I feel as if my novel is where it needs to be, save for some line edits.

Which, for nearly two years, I thought was wrong. So wrong, that I thought I wasn’t writing properly, and I would cry and try to force myself to rewrite things, which, in turn, made me hate and reject those stories even though I once loved them.

So I talked to my boyfriend about it. He’s read my stories in a rough first draft, to a more polished script. He knows me very well. Our minds are synced on that weird level where it’s on the verge of actually being creepy. And he explained some things to me: according to what I babble to him, I write multiple drafts of a novel….in my head. I have such a fully formed idea that by the time I type things out, I don’t need all of those drafts to make the story work. That was just his take, but it made me feel better and I thought about it and I feel like its very true.

It helped calm me down and I got back into writing. My latest WIP, I am editing and revising my first draft and I’ll be querying with my second draft. And I finally feel like that’s okay, that I’m still a writer, even though I’m not on my 18th draft.

I’m not trying to make any author feel bad about how many drafts they write; that is the complete opposite of this post. My point is, in short: that everyone writes differently so therefore, not being able to follow “writing advice” and “published authors progress” is OKAY. You’re you, I’m me. Our brains are wired differently. (And I’m sure I’m not the only one in the world who writes so few drafts, I just am more exposed to those people who do write a lot of them.) So just because someone writes “oh this book took 8 drafts” or “22 drafts”, that’s okay for them, and you shouldn’t hold yourself up to that same number of drafts if you feel like it is hurting your writing.

If an author says “oh you shouldn’t query with a second draft” well, that’s their advice to give, but god dammit, if you feel like your second draft is where you want it to be, go forth and query. (I may be talking to myself here, a little pep talk!)

The thing is this: no one has all the right answers about writing, because there are no right answers. Don’t try to force yourself to do things that are hurting your writing or your soul, and follow instead the things that make you happy and your story and characters thrive.

The world is big and someone will love your story. (Here’s to hoping someone likes mine this year!) You shouldn’t tailor your writing solely based on writing advice from other people. That just doesn’t make sense. Write for you, and let your own instincts guide you through. And, if you feel under qualified, do some research on your own. Read unbiased TEACHING essays about whatever is stumping you. You can learn a lot and integrate it into your writing. Keeping your writing true to yourself is the most important thing.

Social Media ???

Social media is a thing of the present and future. I’ve been a part of it ever since Myspace hit when I was 11. I’ve been through Myspace, livejournal, Facebook, tumblr, twitter, blogging sites and many more I probably have forgotten about by now. (I’m not counting Pinterest on this list, since I’ve never seen the site as a social place but more of an individual place. And I’m writing a whole blogpost about Pinterest eventually!) I’ve grown with it as it’s gotten larger and larger and become more of a social platform than it ever started out to be. I can’t say anything about how it affects the publishing world…this is a blog post for a much more personal look on how social media has influenced me and how I use social media now, after 15 years of use.

I started slowly and quickly dove in. As I said, I started on Myspace, where I was introduced to roleplaying. No, not the kinky kind, but the kind where you write as a character with other characters, creating a story between two writers. Like interactive fanfiction. I liked it a lot, and I followed roleplaying through to numerous other Myspace-like sites once Myspace became a thing of the past. It was a positive experience for me, until more recently (in the past 4 years or so), where these sites have changed to include more interactive things. Like status posts (similar to a twitter or Facebook feed) where people could easily start drama. And boy did they do that! It became so stressful for me to even be vicariously influenced by the drama happening to my friends, that I eventually quit. I love writing, but I would prefer solitary fanfiction writing to being bogged down with school yard drama based on internet anonymity.

I never had any problems with livejournal. It was great, if not a bit clunky at times. I didn’t use it as frequently as other people, but man it was a good site. I loved mostly looking at graphics, and sometimes I’d use it as my digital diary. (I have since deleted any of the blogs that were connected to me.)

Facebook is a whomper. I don’t remember exactly when I started using it, but I was probably 14 or 15. It was great for like 8 years or so. I used to use it like a drug, but when I started college, that changed. I used it mostly just as a photo album, and to connect with new friends since it was the most universal and free way to message someone, etc. However, after I graduated and my Facebook feed started being used more and more for political debates, harmful memes, and general negativity posts (one on top of another and another and another), I had enough. I stayed off of it, I unfollowed a lot of people who were my friends, and finally, I deleted it 2 years ago now. It was the best decision I ever made in my entire life. Almost instantly, a weight was taken off my shoulders. I didn’t feel the constant nagging need to check my Facebook even though I knew the things I would find there would upset me. Only recently have I gotten a tiny bit sad over losing the connection bit of Facebook: it’s hard to meet new people and keep in touch with them via phone/text if you don’t know them very well. Facebook was a great middle ground for that, but there is NO WAY in hell I’ll ever reactivate my page. It’s just not worth it for me at all. I stand behind my decision, and I highly recommend to everyone who doesn’t use Facebook for business purposes to delete theirs if it’s starting to feel like a job or a chore to check or to even know that you have a page. Just leaving a page alone to simmer there can be almost as bad as being active on it. As someone with anxiety, I find it easier to just extinguish things that make me super anxious, instead of letting it linger. I’m in control of my own life, and you’re in control of yours. It’s okay to cut out negativity if it’s affecting your mental health and well-being!

Tumblr is an entirely different beast, one of few that I still hold onto. It’s mostly a fandom place for me. Gifs, fanart, meta posts, memes and jokes are where it’s at! I’ve been on tumblr longer than I can remember. Maybe close to 8 years now. I’ve started and deleted blogs for years, so I can’t tell you what number blog I’m on now. I started out not knowing anything, not tagging anything, reblogging everything, and posting a lot of personal writing on there. When I deleted that blog because there were too many posts without tags and I had like 20,000 liked posts, I remade immediately. I hadn’t, however, saved a lot of my original writing like I thought I did. Still to this day, I think of this intense fantasy world I created through many different graphics and posts, and I miss it dearly but I can’t go back in time so I move forward. Then I started deleting because the people I was following were starting to get toxic. Social justice warriors started popping up and throwing their negativity around. The thing about fandom is…it’s fun. It’s based off of entertainment and things someone LOVES. So to be around people bashing you for loving something wears you down and takes it’s toll. I quit tumblr for over a year once I had enough. Only recently have to come back, but I have been saving myself from the negativity by following blogs that only post about a fandom (they’re typically called “fyeahfandomname” or “fandomnamesource” or something like that) rather than personal blogs. I’ve found that I’ve encountered so little negativity that I can just enjoy the visual stimulation from the gifs and photos and completely cut out the drama. I’ve finally found a happy place for the one social media that I use on the regular!

Twitter is the last big one. I’ve had a similar experience to this as I have with tumblr. Started big and loving it, met some amazing people that I’m still friends with years and years later, but there is so much negativity there. It bogs down even when I’m super careful with who I follow. I had a fandom twitter, where I would gush and rant and post crazy thoughts. I was basically addicted to it, as I always reached for my phone the second a thought popped in my head or whenever anything of even minute interest happened to or around me. I could never go anywhere without tweeting about it. So recently (in April, in preparation of writing my newest novel), I blocked twitter from Google Chrome and I deleted the app from my phone. I kept/keep my professional twitter mostly just to keep up with agents I’m interested in querying to, and to take advantage of things like Pit-Mad and other pitch things that are really useful to me. Other than that, I rarely use that Twitter. It’s more negative than I’d like to have in my life, but I feel it’s an important place to find information for someone looking into querying and getting into the publishing agency.

So, in short, right now, all I’ve got for social media is my bookish/professional Twitter, and my fandom Tumblr blog. (Technically I use Pinterest, but as stated above, I don’t consider it social, and I do use Goodreads, though that’s mostly just for me to keep track of what I’ve read and to post reviews, so not as social as these other sites.) I don’t use Snapchat or Instagram, or any of the other sites I’ve mentioned. And I feel so much better. It’s amazing and terrible to think of how easy it is to let the internet dictate your mental health. I’ve felt so much freer and more mentally stable since leaving those other sites and limiting myself. It’s okay to not have your fingers into every little website. It’s really, really okay to take a step back, assess what you’re putting yourself through by using all of these apps and sites, and figure out what’s a good balance for your mental health!

(This is by no means a how-to guide to social media usage or a psychological explanation for effects of negativity on one’s health, this is just my personal experience, and about how I personally decided was the best way for me to juggle social media and my mental health without becoming totally disconnected.)

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.