Story Workshop: A Reflection on My Experience

Hey guys!

As you know, I am an English major and minor. Which means that I have to take many, many writing classes. This past spring semester I took a Fiction Writing class to fulfill a creative writing requirement. This class definitely helped my writing improve by leaps and bounds – and I believe it’s directly tied to my workshop experience.

Now, in previous writing classes, I’ve spent a lot of time in small group workshops. In groups of three or four, we would exchange stories and peer review them. However, I’d never done a full workshop before. I’d never experienced what it’s like to have a giant group of people tear into your story and tell you what to and to not keep.

It was intimidating. It was terrifying. It made me question my abilities as a writer.

At my University, all classes hold about 20-30 people, and this stands even for writing classes. That was the first aspect that added an intimidation factor to my workshop – I had 25 people going through my story and voicing what they did or did not like. Meanwhile, I had to sit there and not say anything; I could only remain silent and observe the comments that were flying my way.

If there is one test, one hurdle that is difficult to overcome, it is definitely listening to people critiquing a story that is close to your heart. However, it definitely helped me to grow as a writer, I as I learned to listen to the thoughts of those I did not know very well and then applied their comments to further drafts of my story. But, returning to the point of being able to rewrite was not an easy one to reach.

Between the point of my workshop and the point of finally being able to rewrite my story, about a month and a half had passed. I needed time to digest the workshop and weigh the odds of how many changes needed to be made in order to improve my writing. But that waiting period was definitely worth it as I was able to improve the story in a way I hadn’t imagined before. The timeline changed, the characters were flushed out, and I felt grateful for that difficult experience I had gone through.

In the end, the workshop was the hardest day of my life. I was pushed in terms of having to stomach critiques that I wasn’t prepared for and made me step away from a story that I had poured hours of research into. But, by the time I hit my final draft for my portfolio, I was much happier with the story that I had recreated.

To those who said my character’s story wasn’t the one I had originally written – you were right. You were completely right.

Advertisements

Fanfiction

Fanfiction.

Fan. Fiction.

Fanfic.

There was a time when the word made me cringe. There was a time when I absolutely hated reading those stories. There was a time when I used to find fanfiction writing to be beneath me. For past me, the only true writing was found in published novels and my own work. I was cocky and naive and didn’t understand one of the best (and biggest) genres found on the internet.

My attitude about fanfiction began to change when I attended BookCon in Chicago this past May. I was fortunate enough to attend the panel with Sarah J Maas, Victoria Aveyard, and Laini Taylor. Within the panel, Sarah mentioned that she was an avid fanfiction writer when she was in high school (mostly working with Lord of the Rings) and that those stories were one of the reasons why she is able to be the writer she is now.

Fanfiction is a way to practice your writing style while playing around with a subject that you love and know really well. The story line or person or world is already there for you – you just have to play around with it and shape it into whatever it is that you want. I think that’s why I find myself writing fanfiction more often than my actual stories. Between Sarah’s words and the own value that I found in the genre, I no longer find myself scoffing at the genre.

Instead, I’m embracing it.

There is just this weird thrill that comes with fanfiction writing. I don’t know what it is, but I always find myself getting excited over the prospect of working on that particular story. I believe it factors into: 1) I post the story on Wattpad and have readers, and 2) I’m really passionate about what I’m exploring within my story. I’m sincerely excited to jump into the story and to explore a world with some of my favorite characters and people in it.

So far, I have experimented with my fanfiction types. I have one story based on one of my guilty pleasure book series, and another story based one of my favorite musical groups (this is embarrassing to admit, not going to lie). My main thing with these fanfiction pieces is that I’m not doing it for the reader stats or votes or anything – rather, I’m writing these stories because they offer me a place to continue to grow my writing skill and have fun while doing so.

In the end, that’s all that really matters, right?

*****

fan fic·tion
noun
noun: fanfiction
  1. fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, etc.

Camp NaNoWriMo: July 2016

I’ve made a post about Camp NaNoWriMo before, but it’s the second round of the summer, so of course I have to write about it!

My project is a story that I started way back at the beginning of high school, back during NaNoWriMo in 2012. This story is four years old -crazy, right? But what’s crazier is that fact that I have yet to finish this story. What have I been doing with my life? Oh, that’s right, not working on it.

When I picked it back up it was at a little over 55,000 words. I decided to use this story about five days before Camp NaNo began, which was definitely a brilliant idea on my part, considering the last time I touched this story was back in 2014. I had to do multiple steps to get this story shaped up for Camp NaNo.

Did I mention the fact that I had five days to get this ready? I was only mildly insane.

I have to say, past me did not know how to prepare a story. When I was going through my documents for the story, I had plenty of information for the synopsis and on the characters (well, kind of on the characters…). But I had no outline. No notes on what had already happened in the story – which meant that I was starting from scratch. I am very lucky that I had gotten Scrivener after Camp NaNo in April because it has been an absolute lifesaver. I had to completely reread, lightly edit, and outline my entire story before July 1st. I ended up finishing said tasks on July 3rd. But, I tried, right?

My goal for this story is to bring it one step closer to being a completed novel. After editing, I started at about 56,000 words and my goal is to add another 20,000 words to it by the end of the month. Right now, I am very behind in my word count, thanks to the lovely appearance of WB. I know where I want to take the story, but I’m not sure as to how I’m going to get it there.

Oh! I never mentioned the name of my story, now did I?

The title is Sorry I Left and it is a contemporary, young adult novel. It’s told in dual perspectives between the two main characters, Kyla and Ryder. The story follows their journey through their final year of high school as they both learn how to love and how to be loved – while discovering new things about themselves along the way.

Okay, the way I started it makes it sound very cliche, but there are a lot of deeper main and subplot points that I’m working out right now, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise! Although this definitely won’t be hitting shelves anytime soon, I really hope that this will be the story that brings me into the publishing world! That’s the dream, anyway.

Are any of you doing Camp NaNoWriMo this time around? I’d love to hear about your story in the comments!

See ya next time!

WB: The Bully

WritersBlockPic_opt_LargeWide

If there are two words that a writer hates hearing or saying, you know it’s going to be these two: Writer’s Block.

WB.

The bully that never goes away, no matter how hard you try to fight him off.

(Now, ironically enough, I’ve actually procrastinated on writing this post because of those two words. I was blocked from writing about writer’s block. How about that for a double whammy?)

I hate thinking and talking about writer’s block because it is the one thing that kills my stories off, whether or not they are close to far away from being finished. Which sucks, because I want to be a published writer one day. But how will that dream ever come true when writer’s block saunter’s its way into my life and kills off said dream?

That’s one of the reasons why I try to avoid WB as much as possible. (Which is a challenge in itself, but what’s life without a challenge?). If it’s one thing that I’ve learned, when it comes to my creative writing, I need to pace myself. It’s the one way to avoid WB from coming to town. Depending on what story I’m working on, I have to figure out what a good pace of writing is and find the perfect word count to work through every day. If I go over or under that amount, it usually leads to me either being burned out the next day or unwilling to write more.

Another way I try to avoid WB is by reading a really good book. I find, that when I’m passionate about what I’m reading, that passion also follows me into my story writing. There’s always this strategy: you need to always read while writing, in order to fully immerse yourself in the world of the written word. However, with that, you also face the issue of unconsciously drawing elements from that book into your own work. Then again, there is no such thing as an original story….

After WB comes and goes, I find that two things have occurred: I’ve either had a fantastic idea come my way, or my story lay dying in my hands. Usually the latter occurs, which sucks, but it also reminds me that I need to work harder to fight for my stories.

WB is a bully. But it doesn’t have to be.

*****

1. the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

Camp NaNoWriMo: My Savior

CNW_Participant.jpg

If the is one thing in the world that I loved more than anything else, it would be NaNoWriMo. Why? It has helped me to get four stories up to novel status – I’ll admit that none of them have been finished – and it gives me a fun challenge to take on in my free time.

For those of you who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it’s a nonprofit organization that helps writers to, well, write. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it officially takes place annually during the month of November. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a story that is 50,000 words or more, and the emphasis lies on the thought that quantity over quality is what you are shooting for. Finishing a rough draft is more important than having a polished off draft – after all, that’s what revision is for, right?

Camp NaNoWriMo is the summer equivalent of November’s NaNoWriMo, only it either occurs in April and June or May and July. In addition, during Camp Nano you are able to set the word count to whatever you want it to be. You just want to get that novel off the ground? Set the count to 10,00o-15,000 words. You want to write an entire manuscript? Set it longer than 50,000 words. It’s a great tool and a great way to kick of the warm weather by sitting back and pounding  out that new story.

*****

Camp NaNo officially ended a week and a half ago and I have to say, it was no walk in the park. I set my word goal to 10,000 words because I knew I would be writing on limited time, but I still wanted to challenge myself to write. I’m ashamed with how often I push off my personal creative writing in order to watch one of my shows or play games on my iPad or some other type of bull reasoning.

If I was able to help my current novel get off the ground, it was going to be through Camp Nano. And I was kind of right. It both worked and didn’t work for me. As I’ve said before, I’m a busy, full time, college student and at the end of the day I’d rather kick back and watch something entertaining versus sit down and make myself write. (I’ve been battling writers block for a good year and a half now, and I have to say: it’s not going down without a fight.) However, I was able to get my story to 8,000 words, but I wish I could have gotten farther!

One of my biggest challenges falls to the fact that I had outlining. I’ve mentioned it in a previous post, but outlining a paper or a story is one of my least favorite things to do. But through Camp NaNo I found the program Scrivener and that has made outlining a gazillion times easier. And when it comes to writing a novel, you definitely need that outline in order to keep all of your facts and characters straight. That is a hard lesson that I’ve learned after trying to write five novels and only successfully finishing one of them, due to having a co-author.

But if there is one thing that Camp NaNo succeeds in, it’s helping writers to connect with other writers across the nation and maybe across the globe. Camp NaNo has a cool feature where you’re put into a Cabin of other writers who either have a similar word count goal as you do, or are writing in the same genre. Immediately you are connected with other writers and you can talk about the writing craft, host word sprints (timed sessions of 5-60 minutes where you just write without stopping) or word wars (timed periods of nonstop writing where you compare your word count against that of a friend who competed against you). It’s a great way to make writer friends via the internet!

If you are a writer and are looking for a challenge, I highly recommend Camp NaNoWriMo! The next session kicks off in June and I know I’m ready to be able to work on my novel again. Hope to see you there!

*****

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Writing for Academia: General Tips

extra_essay_cartoon1

If there is one thing that college has taught me, it’s that everything that I knew about academic writing was wrong. Professors will give you strict and specific instructions about what they want, how you want to write it, and what it is that you are supposed to do. And if you don’t follow their guidelines… Well, the class is not going to be easy, that’s for sure.

Here are five quick tips that I have picked up within my semester and a half of college, and hopefully it will help make writing essays easier in general! I know keeping all of these things in mind have helped me to find motivation and made the writing process happen a lot faster and easier for myself.

Always Give the Instructor What They Want

The instructor is paid to help you and to teach you something throughout the course of the class. That’s why it is only fair that you give the instructor what it is that they are asking you to do. For the most part, instructors will be very clear in what they want to do – how to structure your argument, what you should argue, and what your topic should be. If it’s open ended, it’s usually more difficult to do, but that just means that you can’t be afraid of asking questions of your instructor.

However, the most important tip to remember: be specific. There is nothing worse for your argument than to speak generically. Generalizing, while it may be a habit to do, can create too many abstract or weak ideas that your audience may not be able to support – thereby, they won’t be supporting you, as a writer.

When writing an essay, you must always be able to answer the question “So what?” during any point in your argument/essay. Your goal is to make the audience care about what it is that you are saying; if they don’t care, at least they’ll be interested in your topic, otherwise they would have stopped reading during the introduction. (Unless they are your professor, that is. Then they have to keep reading.) Being specific helps to clear up any confusion that a reader may have while reading through your essay, and it will keep your essay clear and focused. It’s as easy as that.

Break Down the Prompt/Instructions

The professor will give you anything you need to know within the prompt itself. It is all just a matter of breaking down the instructions and figuring out what direction you want to take your argument in. The prompt will give you a loose framework or guiding hand for when you sit down to outline that essay of yours. Remember – the prompt and the professor are there to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Know Your Audience

When writing, you are always working within a set of constraints or a set of focuses that help to define your writing. One of the most important concepts to keep in mind is your audience. Audience is anyone who reads your paper, interacts with your argument, and could be influenced by what you have to say. Through analyzing who your audience is, you will be able to hone in on diction, figure out how much you need to summarize a story or define terms, and how to organize your essay. The audience is the single most important constraint to your writing, and you must keep them in mind if you are to uphold a strong front.

Know Your Purpose

After audience, purpose is one of the other imperative parts to the puzzle. Purpose will also help to drive your essay and help to create a stronger foundation for yourself. This can be found from a variety of things – the prompt itself, your basic outlined argument, and from the audience. If you know who you are writing for, then it’s simply a matter of pinpointing the best points of an argument that fulfills the needs of the audience and the prompt. Once these two things are flushed out, writing an essay becomes a piece of cake.

Outline, Outline, Outline

If there is one thing I hate doing, it’s outlining. It was always the chicken scratch I made on my AP Exams, the step I usually skip over while working on my fiction pieces. However, outlining is imperative when it comes to essay writing. Outlining is your best friend in college, especially when you have to go back and completely rework a paper once or twice or three times.

I know we all groan and hate it, but it’s next to impossible to write an essay without having an outline to back it up. Through an outline, you are able to see the loose structure of your essay, quickly move pieces around, and flush out what evidence you are and aren’t using. After all, having the skeleton makes it easier to flush out the body.

One of my favorite writing strategies is to past my outline into my essay document and build up around there. With the evidence lined up in the way that I want it, it’s easy to simply write in my explanation and analysis around the quotes. Using my analogy from before, I literally take the skeleton and fill it out where necessary. I even used this strategy to write an essay today, and it all but cut my essay writing time in half.

In Conclusion

Writing essays is not an easy thing to do. At all. As an English major, I can attest to that, especially since I write one essay every one to two weeks. However, after learning more about this breakdown, writing essay’s has definitely gotten easier and faster for me.

All you need to remember is this: Focus, Be Specific, Outline. Those three things along can do so much to help you improve your overall writing and arguments in general.

That about wraps up this post! I do plan on writing more about essay writing, and I’m thinking about making this a blog series titled “Writing for Academia”. I don’t know when the next post will be coming out or how often I will be able to add to this, but it definitely is in my agenda!

Thanks for reading, and see you next time.

*****

“Never say more than is necessary.”
― Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Motivation

got-motivationWhen it comes to writing – whether for academics or for fun – there is always the issue of motivation. Even for this post, I found myself getting quickly distracted and procrastinated on writing it until the last possible moment.

Why is that?

Ultimately, it’s result of being burned out from all of my school work. Being an English major is not an easy thing to accomplish and it comes with an unstoppable onslaught of reading and writing to balance with life. Why write or read for fun, when you have a pile of responsibilities to take care of?

That’s where motivation comes in. It’s this feisty little thing that does not like to cooperate when you want it to. But that’s where you have to take control. You know yourself better than anyone else, so the only way to get things done and to find motivation is to know yourself. That’s been something that I’ve been struggling with all year now, but if you try to do anything without motivation, you might as well give up before you even start doing it. (Why, hello, pessimistic side.)

Finding motivation is no easy task. I think anyone and everyone can agree to that.

For me, it usually comes down to a reward system. If I get X, Y, and Z done, then I can do Q for this long.

Another thing that helps to keep me motivated is by being organized. I’ve murdered many trees lately, which is due to the amount of Post-It Notes I go through in a week. Literally, the amount I go through is ridiculous, but those little slips of paper get the job done. Being able to visually see what needs to get done is helpful, but crossing things off the list? That is simply satisfying.

The other thing, that I always use, is Spotify. I love using their “Deep Focus” or acoustic playlists. Having soothing music in the background helps me to stay relaxed and focused on the tasks at hand. Or, I put on one of my playlists or radio stations. Having music can help to tune out other verbal distractions around you and help you zero in on what it is that you’re doing.

However, there is no denying this other issue: Distraction.

I cannotMy issue is that I get distracted way too easily by everything else. The internet? My phone? A good book? I will always use one of those things when I really should be working on something else. Two minutes of writing – maybe – a sentence, ten minutes spent on my phone. (Even now, that’s happening. Sad, right?) Learning how to control myself and finding creative ways to avoid losing motivation definitely factors in their own sets of issues…

Whelp.

Here’s some irony for your day – I totally just lost my train of thought and any effort to try to come up with more to say.

I guess it’s up to you to decide whether it’s me being a lazy and tired college student, or me losing my motivation! (*evil laughter*)

See you next time!

motivational quote (2)

What Comes First: the Plot or the Character? [Debate]

The professor, in one of my numerous English classes, posed this question today:

“When writing a story, what comes first: the plot or the characters?”

He went on to explain how many authors tend to say that their “characters wrote the story” or talk as if their characters were real people, and that they (the author) was a mere passerby as the story wrote itself. How can character take charge of a story? How can a character write their own story? Those were the questions he posed to the class, as he was clearly baffled by the concept completely. For him, that is a hard concept to understand, which is a result of needing to be 100% in control of his own story, plot, characters, etc..

However, to me, that concept makes sense, and I was nodding along as he spoke of it. When I’m writing – and I’ll admit, planning things out isn’t my favorite thing in the world – I tend to stray away from whatever main plot idea I might have had, and let my story do what it wants. I allow the characters to take control of their own fate and allow events to happen as they happen. Now I’m sure this might sound crazy to some people, but in my mind it makes sense.

But, this all comes back to that question: When writing a story, what comes first: the plot or the characters?

That question has a way of defining a writers style, so I’m going to break it down like we did in my English class earlier today.

The Plot

Have you ever had that moment when this super weird dream you had sits in your mind for days? Or had that crazily brilliant idea hit you while in the shower? You have this one idea, and just know how it is going to unfold in a story. You just know how everything is going to play out. You are in control.

Your plot is solitary the most vital piece to your story. A is going to happen, which will then catalyst B, and so on. Then this will weave in there somewhere, and this twist will happen… It is easy for you to sit down and outline this crazy journey that you are going to place someone in – you just don’t know who that person is yet. But what is important is that you have everything flushed out and are in control of what is going to occur and how everything is going to happen. Your story is born through the idea of an event, and everything else just builds into that.

The Character(s)

Without a doubt, your main character always comes first. Suddenly, an image of a person comes to mind, and you just have to write about them. You sit there, flushing our their likes, their dislikes, their habits, their past, and more. Your character comes first. You want to know everything about them, and they want to know everything about you. As a writer, your character isn’t some two dimensional collection of words you see on a page – they are a living, breathing person in your mind. They are both concrete and abstract, all at once.

After establishing a character, that is when you figure out their situation. But, you know the plot is not going to be set in stone. Sometimes you will be in control, but for the most parts the character is going to drive the story. You get to know the people they interact with, and from there the world starts to grow. Everything that you know about your story is a result of what you know about your character, which is why they are the ones in charge. You’re just along for the ride.

Or, You’re Somewhere In Between

As a renowned pantser (Seriously, outlining is the worst), I find myself falling into a mix of these two spectrum extremes. Sometimes, I have this crazy dream (This one time, I was a badass ghost hunter, living in an abandoned dorm complex on my campus – which is now a baseline idea for a novel I’m working on) and I grab hold of that idea and create a character to go into the world. One character and one idea; that’s all that I start with. From there, I build the plot and the character(s) together, and can never decide on what I want to flush out first. Usually I’m jumping between the two, performing some sort of weird jig and jive.

But sometimes – and this is more rare for me – I have an image of a person come to mind. For a while, I just have a profile built of this character and their generalities, but they don’t have a world or a plot that they belong to. They just exist, and somewhere along the line they will find a home, whether it’s as a main or minor character. It’s all a matter of when that awesome idea finds its way into my mind, and then finds its way onto my laptop screen.

Answer Time

Not all of us fall into any single category – we are all falling in between. Or maybe you do solely one of those two things, I don’t know. That’s a result of the beauty of continuous variables: one day, you’re solely thinking within ideas of plot; the next, you’re starting a story with a character and nothing else. As a writer, you never fully know what to expect, but that also creates a strange and alluring sense of excitement and challenge!

So now it’s your time to answer the question: When writing a story, what comes first: the plot or the characters?

Sound off in the comments below!

Why I Write

Writing is not an easy thing to accomplish, or to do. It’s frustrating, it’s challenging, and it’s probably one of the best ways to spend your time. Not only does it make you think, but it can make other people think as well.

As my first semester English professor would say: it takes a lifetime to learn how to write.

As I would say: challenge accepted.

My career in writing really took off in eighth grade, when I had one of the most supportive teachers in the world. She saw my potential, and really pushed for me to reach higher and deeper with my writing. Around that time, I was also falling in love with Cassandra Clare’s series The Mortal Instruments (Although, my favorite books of hers are The Infernal Devices), and she had a great effect on my writing at the time. If anything, her stories empowered me to write more.

Once I hit high school, I was even more motivated to write. I found teachers that were not only impressed with the work I produced, but would sit down with me and find programs for me to look into for college (Although, most of those programs fell through for me). I found friends that were just as impassioned as I was to write – we could talk for hours about character development and the latest plots and other ideas we had come up with. I created a small support network for myself and it is definitely one that I miss now that I’m away at college.

Looking back at my history with writing, it is amazing as to how much I have grown. I’ve done NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo countless times and have gotten a handful of stories to novel status. However, most lay unfinished, and are laying in the graveyard of abandoned stories on my laptop. I hope to revive a few of them – someday. It’s always that empty promise that kills me a little on the inside. Someday. Someday, I will finish a novel. Someday, I will become a better, more motivated writer. Someday, the internet won’t distract me while writing (But, let’s be honest here: the internet will always be distracting).

Those empty promises are objects that make writing a challenge sometimes. But, then, I remind myself as to why I write. I write to share untold stories with the world. I write to learn more things about myself. I write to better understand others, to better understand social situations. I write to make someone, anyone in the world, happy.

I just write.

Many people don’t understand my fascination with writing, or reading, but that’s okay. They may not ever understand, but that’s okay. What does matter is that writing is something that I love and it’s something that I work hard at to improve everyday. Writing is a comfort; it is a well known friend. And I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

*****

“We live and breathe words… It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed, wanted what you wanted–and then I realized that truly I just wanted you.”
― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince