A Goodbye.

Hello, everyone who reads this blog. This is actually a really sad and serious entry, because it is my last on this site. I am leaving WriteLife after three years, and so I wanted to say goodbye.

Instead of feeling bad and saying how much I’ll miss writing to all of you, I wanted to invite you to go find your favorite post, save it for a time when you’ll need it, and give you a chance to say goodbye to the blog as well. I also wanted to leave you with a mega-awesome, mega-packed last entry: Ten Things I’ve Learned in the Past Three Years of Writing. Please share what you’ve learned; your accomplishments, your awesomeness, and your struggles.

1. Never Use “Was”
There is always a better way to say something than “was sitting” or “was thinking” or even “had been thinking.” There is always a better verb that will throw your character into action. Always.

2. Don’t Be Ashamed of Where You Get Your Inspiration
So many times on this blog, I ventured out of books and into music, theatre, and movies to find my inspiration or facts about writing. For example, this weekend I saw The Way, Way Back and I encourage everyone to go see it, because it’s the best lit fic I’ve read in a long time, and it’s not even a book. Go see it. It’s perfect. You will get an entire year’s worth of writing lessons from the first six minutes of that film. Lessons and inspiration is all around us. Philip Pullman got his idea from a daVinci painting and a broken stair on his back porch. J.K. Rowling got her inspiration from her mother’s death and a train ride. Radical Face got his inspiration from an awful facial cream ad. Find what makes you light up, and then never burn out.

3. It Takes Work. And Other Things.
Nothing is easy. Especially writing. Especially a writer who is trying to write. You will not be able to sit at home and just write. You won’t. It’s a bad idea unless you’ve saved up for it or have a really rich spouse and/or parents. And even then, you shouldn’t just be at home writing, because then what the hell are you going to write about? Sitting at home and writing? Work hard. Have a life. And make part of that life dedicated to your writing. If you always write, you’ll never have anything to write about. If you never write, you’ll never have anything to share. Make it a priority, and then go to the zoo.

4. Don’t Think About Publication While You Write
If they want to change your story later on, fine. But you can’t be worried about what people will think while you are constructing your manuscript. Just pour your heart and soul into it for you, and if you love it, others will, too. Don’t think about age group. Don’t think about genre. Don’t think about marketing techniques. Just write the thing. Then afterwards, see what age group you’ve written. See what genre it could be considered as. Don’t write your content to form. Make your form for the content you have. For more information, go read Neil Gaiman’s interview in this summer’s Poets & Writers.

5. It’s Okay to Fail
In the past three years, I have thrown out over a thousand pages. Is that frustrating? Yes. Will my work be the better for it? Yes.

6. Community is Necessary. They’re Always Right. They’re Sometimes Wrong.
In the past three years, I have joined three writing groups. It is here I find my solace. It is here I get to kvetch about all the awful things writers go through. It is here I can bring my work and be smacked in the face for writing drudge or I can be lauded for writing something good. You need friends. You need companionship. You need to have a home that isn’t a solo act at your writing desk. You need people. And furthermore, you need to listen to them. Especially editors. It’s not your friend’s fault she didn’t get your story. It’s not your editor’s fault he didn’t understand it. It’s your fault. Unless they’re obviously so full of nonsense, and then completely disregard them.

7. You Are Not As Good As You Think. You Are Not As Bad As You Think.
Don’t get an ego. You are not Ernest Hemingway and you will never be Ernest Hemingway. No, that manuscript is not going to change the world. No, you are not going to make millions of dollars. But guess what. You might. Because you don’t suck. And you should be nicer to yourself. Never allow yourself to be overwrought by arrogance or self-interest; write because you love to write. But don’t freak yourself out or beat up on yourself when you’re actually doing really well. You’re better than you were yesterday, and you’ll be better tomorrow than you are today.

8. It Has to Spark.
In Transformers, there’s a thing called the All-Spark. I don’t actually like Transformers or know much about it, but I’m going to go on a limb and guess that the All-Spark gives life to machines … or robots in disguise. Your piece MUST have a spark. It MUST sound like music. It MUST be yours and have a piece of your soul in it. Is that scary? Yes. Is it hard? Not as hard as you think. Sit down and write one true sentence. That’s what Ernest Hemingway said to do.

9. Write to Write. Don’t Write for Fame or Fortune. And Then Sell to Sell.
Guess what. Maybe one person who is writing or reading this right now? Maybe one of us will possibly get published by Harper Collins or TOR or someone of equal awesomeness. Probably none of us are going to be Stephen King. And that’s okay. We have to write because we need to write, not because we need to be famous. Now once the writing’s done, you can’t keep marketing yourself like you don’t care. You have to go out there and see it as a product. See it as something to sell. But if you were writing the sell the whole time, it’ll come off as cheap. Write from the heart. Then sell with the brain. Be a businessman and an artist.

10. Never Write a Book that Isn’t Yours.
This was my last post I did, and it is the best advice I can give you. Never ever write a book that is not your book. I know you love those old Hugo novels, but you are not Hugo. You do not live in Hugo’s time. Carve your own path. Make your own way. Go on your own adventure with your own voice. Really, that’s all writing with your voice means; standing up and singing out the words you feel in your heart, with courage and the belief that someone will find worth in your soul.

Now go write. And have a wonderful life.

Jen

Never Write a Book That Isn’t Yours

So lately I have been writing a book that isn’t my own. How do I know it isn’t my own? Because instead of enjoying writing something, I am spending a hell of a lot of time thinking to myself: How should this be written? What do I always do that I shouldn’t do now? How can I make this sound more like Lemony Snicket? I just don’t get the protagonist …

Well, lemme tell you. Don’t waste a year on such a project as I did. If you feel as if your manuscript is a homunculus whose cold, soulless shadow looms over you every time you sit down to write, don’t write it. Either abandon it for something with a soul, or rewrite it so it’s yours.

How did I not know my protagonist? I don’t know. Maybe I just assumed after writing so many stories, I would know how to write a protagonist that I cared about. But it came to my attention that in every scene, I held him at arm’s length, looking away and wincing whenever he talked. I understood he was an orphan, but I didn’t know what that meant. I understood he was a loner, but I’ve never been a loner or an orphan in my life, so how exactly was I supposed to feel that alone? Four years alone with no one to talk to, and he was okay with that? Who was this kid?

He wasn’t my kid.

So why was I writing him?

Now I’m not saying to not stretch yourself. Everyone should try to write poetry. Everyone should try to write prose. Everyone should read a David Foster Wallace book or a Dave Eggers book and try to write like them, because why not? Sarah Ruhl is amazing; why would we not want to emulate her?

However.

In the end, when it comes to a masterpiece, it’s not someone sitting down and saying, “I’m going to write like that person” or “I’m going to write a book like that book.” Those books are awful, and they can usually be found in the bargain section. It always reminds me of my friend in high school who saw me off to college. I asked him, “Do you think I’m good enough to be the next Arthur Miller?”

He said, “How about you just be the next Jenni Castello?”

And I took that to heart.

Here’s an idea. If you’re writing a book and you’re not enjoying it — and I don’t mean you don’t enjoy it because you’re going through a rough time — then don’t do it. There’s a difference between making it work and putting everyone through hell. Books are like relationships. No, it really is, and hear me out. Books that you write are friends or even sometimes a family member. If we’re with a person who usually makes us happy and we feel connected to, we’ll fight for them. You don’t just divorce your husband because he snores at night or has a hard time communicating. However! If your boyfriend is an atheist and you are in your heart-of-hearts a Christian and you guys just can’t connect on that level that’s important to you … what are you doing? Just find someone else that you can actually enjoy being with. Is it because you’re too scared to find someone else? Is it because you feel like you can really make this one work because you both enjoy the same kind of music? If it’s not love, don’t love it.

Look at your manuscript. Do you hear music when you look at it? No, like real music. Like that music that makes you cry when it comes on the radio because the reaction is so visceral. Do you feel like there’s a part of you in that music? Do you feel like you took a part of your soul and gave life to this thing? Or is it kind of there?

And like relationships, by not cutting it loose, you’re just prolonging the inevitable. I once wrote an awful play. I spent a year working on this awful play although I knew I had no interest in the material or any of the characters. The poor thing sagged in plot and contrived plot revealing. Nothing came from the heart of the character. Nothing came from my heart.

Imagine someone who doesn’t know you. Now imagine handing them your manuscript. Will they understand you better after they read it? Or will they just understand what kind of a person you’d like to be?

Don’t get bogged down. Don’t get scared. Don’t write for anyone but yourself. Don’t ever write a book that isn’t yours.

Supporting Characters and Character Vomits

Recently, I got into an interesting conversation with a writer friend about supporting characters. This writer had heard that supporting characters were nothing more but garnish for the world, able to be used as tools to show the background information or something equally as expository.

I had to disagree wholeheartedly.

Supporting characters are not garnish. They are just as important and alive and vibrant as your main character, so do not treat them as if they are anything less. 

Here is an exercise for you to try out: Take your supporting character and write a spin-off. For those of you who don’t know what a spin-off is, it’s like taking Kelsey Grammer’s character from Cheers and making Frasier.

So for example, instead of writing a tale all about Hansel, write a story about the evil stepmother. Make the supporting character the protagonist, and you’ll be surprised how they come alive!
From my own experience, I can tell you that character charts can sometimes be helpful, but most of the time, you’re better off just writing. Character charts teach writers how to “tell.” What color is their hair? What religion are they? Who were their parents? Where do they live? Charts are nothing but questionnaires that help you define your character. But does it teach you anything about the character’s world? Does it teach you anything about any action that may have happened or how that character speaks?

This is why I do “character vomits.”

I know, it sounds gross. But I promise it’s helpful. Pick a character you don’t know well or you’re not interested in. Now open a word document. And start with their childhood.

Don’t tell me that Sandy was born in Tennessee to a doctor and a stay-at-home father. Don’t tell me that Sandy enjoyed playing with her doll and hated her brother. Show me.

Here is an example of what we do so often:

Family: Sandy’s mother was the breadwinner, which meant that Dad got to stay home with the kids. Mom was a kind woman, but Dad was not. Sandy wishes Mom had stayed home and Dad had gone to work. Dad hit her once.

This is a Character Vomit:

Dad knew how to cook three things: Eggos, ramen noodles, and cereal. Sometimes he cooked all three. And other times, he gave up with a fist-slam to the wall and said defeated, “Get your coat on, we’re going to Burger King.”

Sandy spent a lot of time at Burger King, watching Noah play in the ball pit she was too old for. She spent most of these family dinners sitting quietly, holding her doll, and keeping track of all the shoeless rugrats rushing around the plastic playtubes. Noah got lost once. Her dad didn’t see where he’d gone, but Sandy knew.

Mom didn’t know Sandy spent so much time here. Mom took her to the same Burger King for a special treat once. Sandy didn’t have the heart to say anything.

So we learn from this one scene that Sandy’s dad is not a cook. We know the time: probably the 1990′s, since Eggos are a big thing and so are Burger King play places. We learn that Sandy is passive and Mom is very detached and Noah doesn’t have a real close relationship with his sister. All of these things we can tell from two paragraphs, and it makes us think about the tone of the story and the actions of the characters. Character charts do none of this.

Character Vomits can go on for as long as you’d like. I usually start at childhood and work my way up to the moment that character shows up in the canonical story. And is every piece of that journey beautifully written prose? No. Vomits are never going to make it to the manuscript, and probably no one else will ever read them. So write them sloppily. Write them hastily. Get to the good parts and skip the bad parts. The important thing is to observe and learn about your character’s world.

I assure you, once you do this with a supporting character, you will see where they play a part in your overall tale. They are not a tool used by the protagonist. They are their own person who’s there for their own reason.

For example, let us continue with Sandy.

In the canon, Sandy is the girlfriend of our protagonist’s younger brother. We’ll call the protagonist Molly, and Molly’s brother, George, starts dating Sandy in junior year of college. During the Vomit, we follow Sandy through her parents’ divorce, her quiet studies in high school, her broken heart with a guy named Kevin, and her final escape from her home to college in Seattle. Molly first meets Sandy at George’s funeral.

All of a sudden when we meet Sandy, she’s not some two-dimensional cut out of a mourning girlfriend. She is someone who has gone through hurt before, who is the child of divorced parents, and who has a hard time speaking up about what bothers her. This means that Molly begins to interact with a human being, and not just garnish.

Take care of your supporting characters. Love them as you would love Molly. And your story will grow the stronger for it.

Jen

World Creation. You are not a Tourist.

I’m going to get to my point, I promise. But first, I must regale you with a story.

Once upon a time, I moved to Chicago.

It was a glorious time, made of L trains and freezing winters and odd smells emoting from the alleyways. But then I moved away, and was a Chicagoan no more.

Recently, I was able to return to Chicago and walk amongst the living as the one thing Chicagoans hate more than ketchup on hot dogs: a tourist.

Now most of us in the Midwest have made the sojourn to the lovely little Windy City to taste the deep dish and partake in the Navy Pier gift shop. But not all of us have lived there. Coming from my personal experience of being an outsider, then being a resident, then once again being an outsider, I can tell you there is a definite difference between visiting the city and living in the city.

My first memory of Chicago came in the third grade, when my parents took us on a whirlwind vacation. I remember driving down Ohio Street in our rental van, looking up through the tip of the window and realizing that the Woodmen Tower in Omaha was very small compared to the rest of the world. I remember the street artists with the trash can drums blazing my ears as we turned the corner into the parking garage for DisneyQuest.

I remember the Field Museum and taking the trolley to the Museum of Science and Industry. I remember all of the cool things inside those museums. I remember parking our car near Grant Park and me looking up to the skyline and thinking, “K.A. Applegate lives there. Important people live there.” But most of all, I remember Navy Pier with all of its shops and yummy restaurants and brilliant view of the city.

Ten years later, I lived there.

My memories of Chicago as a Chicagoan do not match up with my tourist recollections. I went to the Field Museum on a whopping two occasions. Navy Pier, which was always a staple of any family vacation to the Second City, was a bane of existence for most people actually living in the Second City. It was out of the way, it was crowded with slow walking people, and all of the restaurants (even the McDonald’s) was overpriced. The only reason why any of us would ever go to Navy Pier was to partake in the amazing IMAX movie theater for such premieres as The Watchmen, 300, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

No, the infamous Bean and Millennium Park barely came into play. And there’s a reason for this disconnect between visiting and living.

Chicago is really divided into four portions: North Side, West Side, South Side, and in the middle of it all the Loop. People visiting never usually go past the Loop. And if they go past the Loop, it’s because they know someone who lives on the North Side and can take them to that swank concert in that swank coffee shop near Southport.

But usually tourists’ view of Chicago is limited by the park downtown, the big fancy buildings, and the pretty Christmas lights on Michigan Avenue and State.

But my memories are speckled with another city.

For me as a resident, Chicago was not big buildings. It was sitting in a living room and playing Cranium with some lifelong friends I’d only just met. It was being late to class because I’d overslept. It was losing forty pounds at the gym over the course of a season. It was my first heartbreak with a guy I shouldn’t have been dating. It was eating Domino’s Pizza and watching The Office and Parks and Rec with the neighbor upstairs who picked me up and put me back together every time I fell. It was paying back a ticket to a comedy show with providing meals at the crappy McD’s down the street. It was discovering graphic novels, attending my first play reading, freaking out when my grandmother had to go into heart surgery, sitting in the park with my high school best friend and talking about him wanting to go to medical school. It was Starbucks cookies I shouldn’t have eaten, and that Greek restaurant I should have gotten around to trying. It was working on the South Side every Wednesday and being there one Halloween and watching the adorable costumes parade by.

But most of all, it was my best friend. Someone who spent hours talking about book plots and dissecting Harry Potter, and the closest thing I ever had to a sister. 

When I returned to Chicago this past month, a lot of those people were still there. I stayed with my lifelong friends and we had a rousing time at Giordano’s eating unhealthy deep dish. And it was great. But when I stepped away from them on the last day and took my bags down to Union Station, I stopped in Millennium Park and I was no different than the people with cameras snapping silly photos of themselves in the Bean. I looked up to the skyline and I couldn’t imagine that three years ago, this was my home. 

My apartment with the movie posters and the dirty kitchen was gone. Most of my friends had moved away to bigger and better things. My neighbor lived in Milwaukee. The boy who had broken my heart had disappeared to God knows where. My high school best friend was nothing more than a forgotten phone number. And the closest thing I had to a sister was hundreds of miles away from this place.

It was back to being a postcard.

So why do I tell you about where I lived? Because I read an amazing article today that talked about the difference between good world creation and awful world creation. When you create a world, you cannot be a tourist. I assure you, there was not a day I lived in Chicago and thought about the Chicago Fire or the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. You’ll hear that crap on the tours, but when you step off the double-decker bus and put your fancy camera down, you’ll start to see ordinary life.

Teenagers with backpacks on the platform waiting to get to school. Women trying not to cry on their way to work because some stupid jerk just shattered their world. Little girls and boys with nannies or their parents rushing to get to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Stuffy college kids walking around in scarves and ironic glasses with their frappes talking about the latest philosophy. Businessmen who walk too fast. Friends going out for a pizza run.

And I assure you, not a one of them is reflecting on the fact that they live in Chicago, which is the third largest city in the United States and was founded by fur traders. Not a one of them thinks it’s weird to get on an L train and go to work. They do not sit there and narrate to themselves, “We are on the Elevated Train and how odd we do not take cars! But back in the 1900′s, someone had this brilliant idea to put an electrical system on a —” no. They take the L. There’s construction on the rails. They’re already running behind, and now they’re going to miss their meeting. I assure you, all they’re thinking about is how much this sucks.

So when you step into your created world, do not have the characters think about the Loop. Do not have them go to the fancy hubs and talk about how fancy they all are. They are not original in their minds. They are just people in a place that are doing life-y things.

Let’s take an example.

A group of humans escape earth right before an asteroid hits. They get on a clunker of a space ship and zoom off to find another world. Years pass, and another world is not found. Three generations in, these people are still living on this clunker and that’s just the world.

A girl around the age of twelve is your protagonist. She has never known Earth, and neither has her grandmother. She lives on the clunker.

Let’s look at two examples of how to go about introducing the world.

Tourist Perspective:

Willow looked out of the Persephone’s small, rusted window to space. It had been one hundred and fifty years since Earth, and still nothing had come but more space. Sometimes a planet here and there, but nothing more than that. She sighed and pushed the buttons on the wall’s Inner-Communication panel, which would connect her to the kitchen below.

On the Persephone, the kitchen was conducted by Chef Maggie, who tried her hardest to fulfill the orders of all twenty-thousand on board. Of course she wasn’t by herself in this endeavor, but still Willow guessed it was difficult to feed twenty-thousand people a day, even with a kitchen staff and a new IronChef-3000, which was the newest contraption Maggie could get before the Persephone left the planet.

Willow put her order in and went to getting dressed in her military-issued tunic. It looked like everyone else’s tunic. But the President said it would make things simpler for them, and what else could they really ask for? It had been over a century.

Now looking at this example, we have a lot of information about the world, but what do we know about Willow? Is this what a twelve-year-old would think getting out of bed in the morning? We are acting as a tourist on this ship, not actually living there and making it real.

Let’s try again.

Resident Example:

Willow did not feel hungry when she woke. The InnerCom kept beeping at her to put in the breakfast order, but she ignored its incessant whining as she stared out the black window stuck in a nervous anxiety. Her brain liked to zoom around in circles when she got stuck. Her mother had instructed her to breathe the last time an attack had come, but this was worse than any attack she’d had before. She didn’t deserve to breathe.

Willow saw Bryan’s face, frozen in time, staring at her with those big eyes and that forlorn look of betrayal. And there was Zacharia and Weston and the rest of the boys, laughing at Bryan and throwing scrap metal at him. She saw it over and over again. There had never been any difference between Bryan and the other boys before yesterday. They dressed in the same tunic, they liked the same music, they sat at the same table in the mess hall. But now,  because of Willow and her big mouth, Bryan was different.

“You promised,” he’d said as she helped him to his feet. The boys were gone now, but scrap metal had gouged Bryan’s cheek and he was bleeding. “You promised you wouldn’t say anything!”

Willow took him to the closest infirmary she could find, which was all the way on Deck Two. It was a long walk, made even longer by their silence.

“Enter breakfast choice!” the InnerCom now screeched at her.

But Willow just stuffed her face and ears into her pillow and tried to go back to sleep.

What’s the real difference between these two scenes? In one, we figure out what Willow’s deal is. We meet the characters and get inside the head of a twelve-year-old girl as she would be. Us living in America do not get up every morning and think, “Our descendants moved here from somewhere else. There was a grand revolution! We are under King George no more!” That was 250 years ago. We care more about what we’re going to eat for dinner and whether or not the people we love are doing okay. And we also don’t call things by their full, formal names. We do not say, “Get on your cellular device and telephone him!” We say, “Call him” or “Can I borrow your phone?” or “Where’s your cell?” Because we’re real people.

Don’t just visit your world. Live there. Don’t just give us Millennium Park and the history of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Give us that night where you were heart-broken because of some stupid guy, and your upstairs neighbor invited you over for pizza and introduced you to Leslie Knope.

That’s where the real story lies.

Happy Third Anniversary, Blog from the Trenches!

Yes, it’s been three years since we aired here on the good ol’ internet. I remember being just a young and spry thing, beginning my work (est. 2010) at WriteLife (est. 2008) the summer out of undergraduate. Three years, multiple books, a writing workshop, an open mic, bunches of book releases and book fairs and book events later, WriteLife has grown exponentially. 

And our following on this blog has grown as well! Thank you for being a part of our family and listening to the mad ramblings of a writer who has had too much caffeine and not enough sunlight. The past three years has brought my own personal trials and triumphs in writing.

In lieu of this anniversary, I’d like to ask you to do something for yourself. Take a minute to rediscover your own writing. Find a piece you wrote three years ago. Read it. Celebrate how you’ve grown. Think about all the amazing places you’ve visited through your words, all those amazing people you’ve created and befriended. And then give yourself a pat on the back. We as writers spend too much time beating ourselves up. It’s time to have a day where we smile.

Share your successes with us! We’d love to hear!

Writing Through Trauma

Trauma.

It’s a personal and frightening experience, having things happen to you that you have no control over nor did you see coming. We’ve all had those moments, starting in kindergarten when some kid says we smell and no one likes us to the moment that our spouse dies from a heart attack in the middle of the night. And in between, what do we have? Car accidents, cancer, death, divorce, unfaithfulness, combat, betrayal, revealings, and broken bones. It’s not our fault, and it’s nothing we did. We can’t understand this, however, because we are so in shock, our body has physically shut off in order to soften the blow. You may be dying? No, it’s not true. Your wife has been cheating on you? No, she loves you! The first thing we always think is “no.”

Trauma can be difficult, regardless of what it is. You get the phone call and someone’s in the hospital. You realize you’re never going to see your house again. Or maybe you wake up from a surgery. The human spirit is resilient, but it does take a moment to process. After the initial blow, you don’t know where to turn. You know you have to keep moving, or maybe you don’t. But it’s those days where you can’t fathom how your life has changed. Your exposition has taken a turn into a complication or a new adventure, and you re-evaluate everything you were told and everything you were taught.

So the question becomes: Is it an appropriate time to write?

As a writer, that’s where I immediately went when my own life flew off the tracks. Circumstances out of my control and events out of my reach had changed my entire existence. I immediately wanted to delve into exactly what had happened, how it had happened, how I was coping with it, and what exactly I thought of it. I sat down with my co-author to take it to task, and immediately had to stop.

“Well of course you shouldn’t write about it right now!” my writer friend chastised me. “I could’ve told you that! It’s too soon!”

It was. It happened on a Wednesday. It was Saturday. But that’s how I always dealt with my problems; stick them in a fictitious world so I can fathom the real world. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?

On this site, we’ve talked about Osama Poems, where you take highly emotional events happening in your life and you write those feelings down. But what if it isn’t Osama being killed? What if it isn’t the Olympics? What if it is something so close to you that you physically feel ill and have to redefine what “you” means?

Writing, I believe, can be very cathartic. Writing, I believe, can help everyone understand things that have happened to them. But I do believe that writing does rub us raw, and we need to be kind to ourselves. If it hurts and you can’t finish it, don’t. Give it time, and then go back. Sometimes we’re so traumatized and so shocked, we need time to just shut off and survive until we can start to write again.

But it goes deeper than that. We are writers. Every day after it happened, I made myself sit down and write. I wouldn’t write about what had happened, but I would continue to work on my other projects that didn’t have anything to do with the shock. You can’t stop working. You can’t hold yourself up in a dark room. You are a writer, and you owe it to yourself to act like one. Life is going to happen, and life is going to hurt. But you need to keep on and keep something normal. You’ll be the stronger for it, and you can find solace in your passion without having to put yourself in a situation of reliving what has just happened.

But when that day comes that you can go to the keyboard and relive, type and type and type. Even if it isn’t good, type. That is why we have stories; to heal, to grow, to learn. If you don’t want to share it with anyone, don’t. If you want to share it with the whole world, do. It’s your story, and you deserve to tell that story.

For anyone who is going through a hard time, keep going. Keep writing. And be kind to yourself.

How to Stay Writing this Summer

If you had all the time in the world, what would you do? A lot of us would like to think we’d save the world, but what have you done with your (possible) free time in the past two to three weeks that you have (possibly) not been in school or working?

A marathon of Mad Men? Good show, old sport.

Here are some ways to keep motivated this summer, when you just can’t seem to find any time in all the time you have.

 

CAMP NANOWRIMO
You know that the illustrious Nanowrimo has an online camp? Register for free by July 1, and you can do Nanowrimo IN THE SUMMER. It divides you into camp cabins with other cabin mates, who will keep you accountable. You get to set the word goal, you get to decide how much you really want to do. I’ll meet you there.

 

“BRADBURY” IT
Ray Bradbury writes in his introduction to Dandelion Wine how he gets some of his ideas and how he is such a prolific author. He wrote every day. Even if he just started gabbing to himself about flowers and trees and coffee pots that he saw, he forced himself to sit down and write every day. It didn’t have to be a lot; maybe just 200 words. But at least he was writing.

 

TREAT IT LIKE A JOB
Some of us have time off from our jobs in the summer, and we are a lucky bunch. I’ve already told you the story of the writer’s conference where writers were complaining that teachers always said they didn’t have the time to write. They said, “They have 12 weeks out of the year off! How do they not have time to write?!” So now that you’re getting paid to eat bon bons and travel to Okoboji, use this time to make a schedule for yourself. And this is the best part: you don’t have to work 9-5. You can start at 10 at night and go until 4 in the morning, if that’s how your writer’s clock works. You are in control of your own schedule, your own needs. Don’t squander this time.

 

FIND A SPOT AND A FRIEND
I dusted off my writer’s space, and I have a good friend that lives down the street. We know we need to work, so we meet up to work. I’ve already discussed the importance of having a writing buddy or a writing space. If that writing space is the lake, or a parking lot, or a closet … whatever it is, go there. Do it.

 

MAKE GOALS
Know how much you want to get done. Set deadlines for yourself. MAKE yourself hit those deadlines. If you’re like me, it’s difficult to get anything done without structure. If someone tells me I have three months to do something, I’ll sleep for the first two months. You have to keep at it. You have to be kind to yourself and be fair to yourself when it comes to your goals, but you also need to be hard and tough and unrelenting. Be that teacher you hated to love.

 

BEGIN A BLOG
Did you know that writing on a blog is actually writing? My God! Do it! That way you’ll get feedback, you’ll have an audience, and it won’t be as stressful as crafting fiction.

 

READ READ READ READ!
It’s George R.R. Martin that says a book is to a writer’s brain as a whetstone is to a sword. You have to sharpen your skills by reading. Don’t just hold yourself up with your brilliance and not crack open some of the greats and learn a thing or two.

 

Any ideas? How do you keep busy?

- Jen